Backyard Farms sold to Canadian firm

Landmark tomato-grower Backyard Farms in Madison has been sold to a Canadian produce company in a deal that officials said would keep greenhouse operations running without interruption. Mastronardi Produce Ltd., of Kingsville, Ontario, announced the purchase Friday in a joint news release with Backyard Farms, which was founded a decade ago and operates two greenhouses on 42 acres at 131 River Road in Madison. Mastronardi Produce, which packs its specialty and commodity greenhouse produce under the SUNSET brand, said its acquisition of Backyard Farms — made at an undisclosed price — will increase its internal greenhouse network to six locations across North America and will boost the combined company’s headcount to about 3,000 employees. Under the acquisition, Backyard Farms will retain its brand and greenhouse operations will continue uninterrupted, officials said. Read the story.


Plan to combine health care systems into one advances at MaineHealth

MaineHealth is taking the next step in a plan to merge all of its member organizations into a single nonprofit entity that would make financial decisions for the entire group. Based in Portland, MaineHealth is the parent entity of Maine Medical Center and nine other health care networks, including Franklin Community Health Network, Western Maine Health, Maine Behavioral Healthcare, Memorial Hospital in New Hampshire and Southern Maine Health Care. It is Maine’s largest health care system with about 18,000 employees. The boards of nine of the nonprofit’s 10 members approved a plan to get feedback from the communities served by MaineHealth affiliates before a final decision is made in the fall. Read the story.

Maine Med buys Westbrook building

Maine Medical Center has purchased the largest office building in downtown Westbrook. The Portland hospital Thursday announced its $10.75 million purchase of One Riverfront Plaza. The six-story building will house Maine Med’s information services team and other administrative employees who are currently spread across eight office locations in Greater Portland. Located on the bank of the Presumpscot River, One Riverfront Plaza has 134,000 square feet of high-end office space. A newly opened pedestrian bridge connects the office directly with restaurants and shops on Westbrook’s Main Street. But the building has been vacant for more than a year. Disability RMS, a disability insurance provider and one of Westbrook’s largest employers, left for South Portland when its lease expired in January 2016. Read the story.


Scandinavian biologists see threat in crossbreeding by American, European lobsters

Scandinavian biologists say American and European lobsters are crossbreeding and their offspring can survive in European waters, but it is too early to tell if the hybrids can reproduce. Susanne Eriksson of the University of Gothenberg in Sweden and Ann-Lisbeth Agnalt of the Institute of Marine Research in Norway presented their findings on the threat that American lobsters found in the northeast Atlantic Ocean pose to their smaller European cousins Tuesday during the second day of the International Conference and Workshop on Lobster Biology & Management in Portland. They said they have proof that American lobsters are surviving and competing with the European lobster for food, shelter and mates. What is still unknown is whether the offspring of the two species are fertile. Last year, Sweden asked the European Union to list the American lobster as an invasive species after scientists there found evidence of crossbreeding, which would have ended a $200 million annual export business. The evidence persuaded the forum of EU scientists who study alien species to support a ban, but not the EU politicians who must approve such a listing. Read the story.

Bill that toughens penalties for cheating lobstermen advances

A bill that would impose harsher penalties for lobstermen who violate fishing laws and would allow the Department of Marine Resources to track fishermen who have had their licenses suspended appears headed toward approval by the Maine Senate and House. The bill, L.D. 575, was approved by the Senate on Wednesday and by a 130-16 vote by the House of Representatives on Thursday. The measure has to go back to the full Senate and House for a second and final procedural vote before it can be enacted. Read the story.


R&D bond goes to voters

A $50 million bond proposal under consideration by Maine voters would restore one of the state’s key tools for technology investment and help grow the state’s research and development spending, which lags far behind national and New England averages. The bond is the only statewide issue on the June 13 special referendum ballot. If approved, $45 million of the bond would be distributed in grants from the Maine Technology Asset Fund manged by the Maine Technology Institute. The competitive grants support infrastructure, equipment and technology upgrades for public and private entities involved in certain technology sectors. In the last round of financing issued through the asset fund in 2015, MTI received requests for more grants than it could pay for, indicating high demand for the program, said Brian Whitney, president of MTI. Read the story.

Kittery startup wins $50,000 pitch contest

Good To-Go, a Kittery-based small business that produces gourmet dehydrated meals for outdoor enthusiasts, won $50,000 Tuesday night by presenting the most appetizing business pitch to a panel of judges in the fifth annual LaunchPad competition. Sponsored by Gorham Savings Bank, LaunchPad is designed to help fund the growth of one promising, early-stage Maine business each year. Five companies were chosen from a pool of nearly 140 applicants from across Maine to compete in Tuesday’s final round, a live business-pitch competition before three judges at the University of Southern Maine’s Hannaford Hall in Portland. The four other finalists were Jellux of Saco, which produces LED dock lighting that can be controlled from a mobile device; North Spore of Westbrook, which produces gourmet mushrooms and mushroom spawn; STARC Systems of Brunswick, which makes modular, reusable containment walls for construction work in occupied buildings; and UniteGPS of Portland, which develops mobile software tools for tracking school bus passengers and drivers. Read the story.


Transportation bonds at center of Maine power struggle ready to sell

Transportation bonds that were at the center of a dispute between State Treasurer Terry Hayes and Gov. Paul LePage are ready to sell, resolving a conflict that threatened to hold up millions in funding for construction projects around the state. Hayes announced Wednesday that the state completed its general obligation bond pricing that will fund $114.7 million of projects previously approved by Maine voters. The projects include major transportation infrastructure work, as well as land acquisitions, armory upgrades and improvements at the Maine Community College System, according to a release from Hayes’ office. Bids were received from 11 underwriters, all below the projected rate of 2.20 percent. The total borrowing costs for the bonds will be 1.54 percent over 10 years. Read the story.


Forest products on agenda of trade mission to Finland

Gov. Paul LePage was in Finland last week as part of a Maine trade mission focused on the forest products industry. According to LePage’s communications office, the governor participated in a trip organized by the Maine International Trade Center along with George Gervais, commissioner of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development. On Monday, LePage met with members of the Finnish Forest Industries Federation in Helsinki and planned to meet Tuesday with executives of several pulp and paper companies. The companies include Metsä Group, Stora Enso, Andritz Oy, Huhtamaki and Atol Avion. The latter two companies, Huhtamaki and Atol Avion, have operations in Waterville and Brunswick, respectively. And on Wednesday, LePage and other members of the trade mission were scheduled to tour an icebreaker ship base in Helsinki and meet with representatives of Arctia, which provides icebreaking vessels to Finland to open shipping lines. Read the story.