Ag groups team up for So. Md. loan program
UPPER MARLBORO, Md. — When Chantal Brooks and her husband John retired from a joint medical practice in the Chesapeake, Va., area two years ago, they moved north to be closer to their children and grandchildren, settling on 33 acres of empty pastureland in Prince George’s County.
“It was like, ‘What do we do with all this land? It was a gorgeous piece of property,’” said Chantal Brooks, 62.
The family started a cattle farm. Their daughter, 33-year-old Roxann Brooks Motroni, is a veterinarian and has experience with cattle. The family figured a beef business — owned jointly by their three children — could service local residents and restaurants. They only needed money to start their herd and fence the property.
That’s where MARBIDCO and the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission came in.
About a year ago, SMADC teamed up with MARBIDCO — a quasi-public corporation created to develop agriculture industries and markets statewide — to offer small loans specifically to farmers in Southern Maryland.
New or established farmers can apply for loans between $10,000 and $20,000 for projects in three areas: to start or expand livestock and aquaculture operations, to boost small fruit operations or to pay for farm upgrades that comply with new Good Agricultural Practices and Food Safety Modernization Act standards.
The fixed-rate loans are offered interest-only for up to 18 months (depending on the operation) as it gets off the ground, and up to 25 percent of the loan can be forgiven for borrowers in good standing at the end of the loan’s term. The program was started with $150,000 from SMADC, a state organization created to diversify agriculture in Southern Maryland, which includes St. Mary’s, Charles, Calvert, Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties. It’s administered by MARBIDCO, which is also a lender.
Three farms from the region have applied for loans, and 804 Cattle Company in Upper Marlboro, owned and operated by the Brooks siblings, was approved late last year for a $17,000 loan. Half was for cattle purchasing. The other half paid for a corral and chute system and other improvements that allowed the family to vaccinate and deworm cattle in accordance with Beef Quality Assurance standards.
“SMADC is really trying to do everything it can to help farmers diversify their income through livestock production and meat sales,” said Steve McHenry, MARBIDCO executive director. “This program is targeted to supplement those programs and fill in need that commercial lenders are not providing.”
SMADC may also expand the kinds of projects covered in the program, said Shelby Watson-Hampton, SMADC’s director. She said the program was envisioned to serve young farmers, new farmers — like the Brookses — and established farmers looking to diversify their operations. Hampton-Watson said she’s also noticed many people choosing agriculture as a second career, including retired military personnel.
“We think it’s important to help provide some financial stability for those operations,” she said.
Farms like those owned by the Brooks family also help SMADC in its goal to boost beef production, build a new processing plant in the region and expand its Southern Maryland Meats label, which includes more than 40 farms across the region.
Motroni lives on the family farm across from her parents and maintains it with her brothers, Justin Brooks, 35, a scientist with the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, and Jason Brooks, 41, a supply chain analyst in Richmond, Va. Chantal Brooks said the farm will teach her grandchildren how to care for the land and animals and give them an opportunity to inherit a family-run business.
“It is very much a family concern, I can tell you that much,” Chantal Brooks said. “It’s going very well.”
The farm’s first calf created through artificial insemination was born last week, and six other females are pregnant, she said. 804 Cattle Company manages 14 head total and hopes to begin selling beef by next year, she said.
It’s made for a pleasant introduction to region’s agriculture community.
“They’re just very nice people, very good people who have always been willing to help and give us ideas,” she said. “That’s been a real plus.”