Bob Bartlett, the father of Bartlett Farms' owner David Bartlett, helps sort rocks and tops from the potatoes at the farm's potato house in Littleton. Credit: Alexander MacDougall | Houlton Pioneer Times

AUGUSTA, Maine — A new program has made $10 million in grant money available to Maine farmers and agricultural producers hit hard by the pandemic’s economic impact.

But candidates will have to act fast. The funds are available on a first-come, first-served basis, with applications closing at 5 p.m. Friday.

The Agriculture and Food Processing Infrastructure Reimbursement Program will reimburse up to $100,000 spent by Maine food and agriculture businesses as they patch supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic, Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Communications Director Jim Britt said.

Created in collaboration with state agricultural officials, the program is being administered by Brunswick-based Coastal Enterprises, Inc., and will redirect $10 million in federal CARES Act funding to Maine farmers and agriculture businesses as they weather the economic impacts of COVID-19.

The pandemic has seriously hampered agricultural supply chains, as many food processing plants have closed due to coronavirus cases among workers. And in an increasingly global economy, many international governments have limited long-distance trade to contain the spread of the virus.

As restaurants, stadiums and campuses closed or reduced capacity across the country, many Maine producers also saw a decline in sales, including Aroostook County’s famous potato industry. Drought conditions experienced across Maine for much of the year only exacerbated the difficulties faced by Maine’s large agricultural sector.

Farmers and other food and beverage producers can use the funds to reimburse purchases of equipment, capital projects, and additional costs they saw because of the pandemic between March 1, 2020, and Dec. 18, 2020.

The primary goal of the funding is to help producers increase their processing capacity, resolve supply bottlenecks and enhance worker safety.

Gov. Janet Mills said the funds would help offset new costs incurred by Maine’s extensive farming and agricultural sector as it withstands the economic effects of COVID-19.

“Maine farms, producers, processors, and businesses have worked tirelessly to maintain our food supply chain during the pandemic,” Mills said. “This funding aims to help cover some of those unanticipated costs and sustain businesses across the food production and distribution landscape.”

In 2019, Maine had the second highest agricultural production in New England, behind only Vermont, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data. It ranked 10th nationwide in potato production — also the highest in New England — and 32nd in dairy production.