By Jai Templeton
Tennessee Department of
Agriculture is important to the 67,000 farmers across this state who make all or part of their living from producing our food, fiber, and fuel. It is also important to the 6.7+ million Tennessee residents who enjoy and depend on the fruits of their labor. We have long understood that agriculture is the foundation of many communities’ economies and livelihoods.
Agriculture is seeing many adjustments at this time. Some changes, like the new Tyson Foods poultry production complex in West Tennessee, are great for our farmers. However, the challenges are also very real, and many families are now facing difficult decisions.
Several farms have been given the news that major clients will stop purchasing their tobacco and milk for reasons beyond the farmers’ control. Tobacco and dairy have long been foundations of agriculture in Tennessee, and we are working with all stakeholders to determine the best way forward.
With an annual economic impact of more than $81 billion, agriculture is our state’s top industry. Keeping nationwide market influences in mind, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA) is focused on strengthening the ag industry. This past year, we completely retooled the way we think about our role in building Tennessee’s agribusiness environment.
We have revamped our Agricultural Advancement division and changed not only the titles, but the direction of our employees. Our Agribusiness Development Consultants are dedicated to bringing opportunities to our state. I like to think of our efforts as being the five pillars of Agricultural Advancement with services directed toward international exports, meat processing, on-farm sales, forestry, and food manufacturing.
One out of every three direct-farm receipts is attributed to international markets. Tennessee is a frontrunner in livestock production, and we have room to expand our fresh and local processing capacity. In 2017, TDA issued permits to more than 225 new food manufactures, proving the desire to do business here. We continue to lead the charge to support and promote our farmers through the Pick Tennessee Products program, farmer’s markets, agritourism ventures, and farm development programs, and we are organizing a statewide community garden program.
More than 52 percent of Tennessee is forestland. That asset alone gives us a great opportunity to add value to our land, wildlife, and environment, as well as create jobs in rural communities. The Tennessee Wood Products branding initiative is increasing visibility and enhancing marketing options for Tennessee’s wood products industry.
While we remain committed to assisting the front-line farmers and foresters through the Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program (TAEP), we are also looking ahead. With AgLaunch, we intend to move Tennessee forward as a hub of agriculture innovation and entrepreneurship. The Agriculture Enterprise Fund aims to provide opportunities to small agribusinesses that need the nudge to add value to our farm and forest production.
The entire TDA team comes to work every day committed to the tasks we are mandated to accomplish by law or challenged to do in order to best serve our constituents. We also show up for work thinking about ways we can increase the value of farm and forest products. That extra value puts dollars in the wallets of the landowner, farmer, and forester, and it creates jobs.
Thank you for the great support that you give Tennessee’s most valuable industry. I look forward to keeping you updated on our progress.