Missouri Agriculture, Food and Forestry Innovation Center Cultivates growth in Local Agribusinesses

The center, using a recent $1.3 million USDA grant, supports Missouri’s value-added agricultural producers with a variety of hands-on assistance and resources

Nearly one-third of Missouri’s economy is tied to agriculture. Now, as part of a partnership that evolved from a statewide effort to help agricultural producers scale their businesses, the Missouri Agriculture, Food and Forestry Innovation Center (MAFFIC) has launched. The center draws on agricultural business development expertise at the University of Missouri and the Missouri Agricultural and Small Business Development Authority (MASBDA).

A hand is shown slicing some raw beef.
As one of the nation’s top regions for cattle production, Missouri is home to a great deal of cattle producers who make up a significant portion of MAFFIC’s clients. Source: iStock

Supported by a two-year, $1.3 million grant from the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development (USDA-RD), MAFFIC helps producers level up their business acumen, so they can confidently turn raw ideas into viable businesses or further grow established, successful businesses. Experts at MAFFIC advise clients on everything from best business practices — including finding a product’s market, offering tips for keeping financial records and understanding a product’s cost of goods — to food safety.

“Many food and farm entrepreneurs are really good at making a product,” said Mallory Rahe, co-director of MAFFIC and faculty with MU Extension. “It’s our job to support them on the financial analysis and business decision-making side, and that’s where our skills and service come in.”

With a staff of 13 advisers knowledgeable in a variety of subjects, MAFFIC serves as a valuable, free resource for agricultural producers working to take their value-added agricultural businesses to the next level.

Canned elderberry jam surrounded by raw elderberries on a counter with a spoon.
MAFFIC collaborates with value-added producers across various agricultural niches, whose products range from fermented jams and jellies to wood products and the beef industry. Source: iStock

“We are committed to supporting Missouri farmers as they grow their economic impact, and we are pleased to partner with MAFFIC,“ said Jill Wood, executive director of the Missouri Agricultural and Small Business Development Authority. “The center’s focus on providing technical assistance to new and established value-added producers aligns well with our ability to provide capital for these agricultural ventures.”

Over the course of the two-year grant, MAFFIC’s goals are to support value-added businesses in attracting capital, assist value-added agricultural businesses as they start up or expand and create and retain jobs across the state. These outcomes directly support the broader goal within MU Extension to double the value of Missouri agriculture by 2030 while sustaining natural resources and support implementation of the state’s Show-Me-State Food, Beverage and Forest Products Manufacturing Initiative. Successful outcomes from MAFFIC’s work will add to the $6.5 billion economic impact that the University of Missouri System generates in Missouri.

Many wheels of cheese rest on top of four shelves.
With a handful of experienced business advisors on staff, one of MAFFIC’s primary goals is to help producers keep their pulse on a constantly shifting food market. Source: iStock

“We’ve got a lot of enthusiasm coming out of the coronavirus pandemic for local foods from both consumers and producers who see an opportunity to fill a hole in the market,” said Joe Horner, co-director of MAFFIC and agricultural economist with MU Extension. “Now, we’ve got a vehicle and the means to accelerate some of those entrepreneurs’ goals.”

Since MAFFIC officially opened in early January, the center has already worked with 65 small business owners who develop niche goods including wood products, farm-finished meat, honey and elderberry products. A group of industry leaders provide oversight and input by serving as a board of directors for the center.

“The challenges of the last few years have created opportunities for Missouri producers,” said Ashley McCarty, MAFFIC board member and executive director of Missouri Farmers Care. “When producers can mobilize production, marketing and distribution, they can meet market demand and give consumers access to locally produced products. MAFFIC is ready to help Missouri value-added producers succeed.”

As one of a few resources of its kind in Missouri, MAFFIC will serve agricultural producers by assisting them in developing and marketing value-added products in the following ways:

  • Work with producers to assess business readiness, choose appropriate business structures, test business concepts and plan their businesses.
  • Offer financial advisory services to help producers compile financial statements, and provide advice on how to access capital, budget effectively and make financial projections.
  • Assist producers with developing products using safe methods by increasing understanding of food regulations and good agricultural practices.
  • Connect producers with value-chain stakeholders and infrastructure such as commercial kitchens, processors, storage facilities and distributors.
  • Work with producers to think through marketing considerations such as communicating with customers, collecting their feedback and pricing products competitively.
Win grapes are shown moving through a processing machine.
Winemaking, an historically well-cultivated industry in the Show-Me state, involves a process of crushing bunches of grapes in an industrial grape-crusher machine. Source: iStock

“This center encourages entrepreneurs to bring innovative ideas to Missouri’s agri-marketplace,” said Rob Kallenbach, associate dean for Extension in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. “MAFFIC’s work will help new or expanding companies develop solid business plans and connect them to potential customers.”

Agricultural entrepreneurs interested in exploring or expanding value-added businesses can learn more about the center, find resources and request technical assistance at missouriaginnovation.com.

Editor’s note: MAFFIC consists of a team of multidisciplinary experts: co-directors Mallory Rahe and Joe Horner; food safety specialist Kantha Channaiah; business counselors Ryan Milhollin, Alice Roach, Amie Breshears, Debi Kelly, Justin Keay, Drew Kientzy, Jennifer Lutes and Katie Neuner; and MASBDA agricultural loan officers Jacob Stoehr and Marla Young.

Contact: Courtney Perrett, 573-882-6217, cperrett@missouri.edu