Maine is seeing a resurgence of small-scale agriculture, especially among young farmers. But, difficulty accessing financial resources is preventing many of these entrepreneurs from expanding their operations and keeping others from farming altogether.

So, the idea of a credit union for agricultural interests is welcome.

Sam May and Scott Budde, who have both worked in the financial sector, are in the early stages of setting up Maine Harvest Credit Union (in organization), the first new credit union in the state in 25 years. They will begin seeking $1.4 million in grants next month.

May and Budde smartly began their work with a survey of small farmers and agricultural producers, as well as a separate survey of members of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association to assess the needs of their likely credit union members.

They found a potential loan market of nearly 700 farms with a potential loan demand of more than $185 million. Most of those surveyed had not taken out loans from the Farm Service Agency or Farm Credit East, which also provide financing for agriculture. Farm Service, a federally funded program, has limited assets, and Farm Credit, a private entity, tends to work with traditional farmers, not diversified small farms such as the ones growing in Maine. Farmland acquisition often doesn’t qualify for traditional bank or credit union funding, leaving a gap in the finance system for smaller farmers who want to grow their fledgling enterprises.

May and Budde’s survey also found that 80 percent of Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association members would have interest in joining their credit union within the first two years, and 56 percent would be willing to place initial deposits totaling in the range of $6.5 million.

This is important because a credit union is based on the model of members depositing money that can then be lent to other members.

The credit union would focus on mortgages between $100,000 and $500,000, equipment loans between $5,000 and $50,000, and seasonal loans of the same amounts.

There are 1.4 million acres of farmland in Maine, 700,000 of it under cultivation, according to John Piotti, president of the Maine Farmland Trust. About 400,000 acres belong to older farmers and will soon change hands.

This highlights the need for financing for farmland purchases, especially as younger farmers seek to buy land and equipment.

The number of Maine farmers age 34 and younger grew by about 40 percent from 2007 to 2012, from 396 to 551. Nationally, the number of farmers in that age group increased about 1.5 percent.

As one young farmer put it, making financing available will help ensure that it is not just “trustafarians” — folks with trust funds who live an earthy lifestyle belying their financial resources — who can get into farming.

“If we want to encourage a lot of young people to get into farming — be it small, medium or large — we have to figure out how to make it not only attractive but possible,” said Rufus Percy, whose 100-acre Whitefield farm is made up of family land, leased land and acreage bought with a mortgage. “If only trustafarians can farm, then we’re all going to go hungry.”

According to the survey conducted by May and Budde, the farmers they aim to serve expect demand for their products to continue to rise — with the revenue from it growing by 27 percent next year — highlighting a growing interest in locally grown food.

Maintaining farmland and growing food locally will both benefit Maine. So, ensuring financial resources are available, with farmers and producers helping one another, simply makes sense.

The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...