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Technology Innovation Drives Maine’s Farming, Fishing, Forestry Industries

Maine's three legacy industries – farming, fishing and forestry – have survived through adapting with new technological innovations.

By Teree Caruthers on January 2, 2014

Three of Maine’s core industries – forestry, fishing and farming – are undergoing dramatic transformations to remain viable for the future. Through innovative technologies, these legacy industries are carving a successful path of progress.

Maine, the nation’s second leading producer of paper and pulp, is producing as much of both as ever thanks to innovations in forest sustainability and major technological advances.

Sappi Fine Paper Works Well In Maine Communities

Sappi Fine Paper North America operates two paper mills in Maine and a state-of-the-art research and technology center in Westbrook. The nine-building research facility, called the North American Technology Center, is equipped with two pilot coaters that enable prototype development for both the company’s coated fine papers and specialty release paper business. Sappi’s release papers are used to provide textures and patterns for synthetic fabrics used in automobiles, footwear and apparel, as well as decorative laminate surfaces found in flooring, kitchens and bathrooms. The center, which has more than 250 patents, helps Sappi maintain a competitive edge.

“The research and development facility has played an important role in helping our business stay profitable,” says Beth Cormier, vice president of research, development and innovation for Sappi Fine Paper North America. “Our technology advances have resulted in improved and more profitable products to market.”

Cormier noted that research advances in the more mature graphic and technical paper business have helped with efficiency and cost.

“The community in Maine has been very supportive of the company, and educational institutions like the University of Maine system have been great collaborators in out R&D efforts,” Cormier says.

In addition to the release paper and graphic and technical papers research, the Westbrook facility has also been investigating new opportunities for the forest products industry, including the use of nano cellulose materials from trees. These renewable materials have phenomenal strength capacity and can be used in a host of applications.

Another Maine pulp mill, Old Town Fuel & Fiber in Old Town, is producing energy and biofuels as byproducts of its core pulp manufacturing process.

“I think the paper and forestry industry in Maine will remain strong for a long time to come, largely due to its latest innovations and the abundance of the product,” says John Williams, president of the Maine Pulp & Paper Association.

The state also has a number of high-end furniture manufacturers including ,Thos. Moser Cabinetmakers in Auburn, as well as major paper products, wood flooring and building products companies. Paper is Maine’s leading export commodity.

Maine Aquaculture Feeding the World

Aquaculture is perhaps Maine’s newest and fastest-growing industry. Sales from Maine’s 180 aquaculture farms range from $80 million to $110 million annually, and more than 630 people are directly employed in the industry.

Maine aquaculturists raise Atlantic halibut, Atlantic salmon, blue mussels, American oysters and various species of seaweeds, scallops, clams, sea urchins and freshwater bait fish.

“We believe that growing food in the water is more efficient than growing food on land,” says Sebastian Belle, executive director of the Maine Aquaculture Association. “Maine seafood is a quality product demanded across the globe.”

Maine’s agriculture and food industry is also managing to stay ahead of the innovation curve. Maine farms number more than 8,100, covering more than 1.25 million acres. The industry has a $1.2 billion impact on the economy. Maine leads the world in the production of wild blueberries, and is a leading producer of potatoes, maple syrup, brown eggs, tomatoes and dairy products.

There are many technological advances in the growing and vibrant organic farming community in the state and the Maine Agriculture Center is a major provider of innovation for the farming and food industry.

With such successful agriculture and fishing sectors, a host of food production companies has emerged. These include Backyard Farms, Cooke Aquaculture, Ducktrap River of Maine , Wyman’s of Maine, McCain Foods and Penobscot McCrum.

Maine is also seeing a dramatic increase in exports, largely due to its latest technological innovations, says Janine Basaillon-Cary, president of the Maine International Trade Center. Paper and seafood are among its major export categories.

“Over the past several years, Maine has put a great deal of effort in developing overseas markets,” Basaillon-Cary says. 

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