By Pettus L. Read – Director of Communications for Tennessee Farm Bureau
I hadn’t thought about a Volkswagen Rabbit, until a few weeks ago, when I saw one driving ahead of me with a For Sale sign in the back window. Traffic wasn’t moving very well in the rural town I was driving through on my way to work, and the Rabbit I was following seemed to have seen its better days. Being primer gray, running sporadically with a worn out diesel engine, as well as smoking like a steel mill smoke stack, the little Rabbit was doing its best to “hop” on down the road. The signage on the bumper promoted “Mother Earth” and if I had followed that little car very far, both the planet and myself would have been in major respiratory trouble.
On the back of the little car was a bumper sticker from several yesterdays ago containing a peace symbol and a picture of a strange looking set of plant leaves that appears on most drug prevention materials today. I grew up in the ‘60s and finished college in ‘70, so I understood the automobile “proper gander” across the rear of the little Rabbit. Also located on the bumper was another sticker that urged everyone to save “Mother Earth NOW!” However, from the look of the car, the car owner and the bumper sticker, I am sure the term “now” happened several years ago.
As I attempted to breathe in spite of the diesel and oil fumes seeping into my car, I thought back to my college days when the person driving the car in front of me probably told us all that the Earth was doomed. Sure am glad they were wrong back then, just like some folks keep telling us today that farming is on its way out. Rather than giving up and listening to the naysayers, here we are, with one farmer still producing on average enough to feed approximately 155 people every day. Plus, we’ve also done our part to help take care of the planet as well.
In the state of Tennessee, agriculture and its farmers has had a real boost over the last six years from a cost share program that continues to make a difference in the rural landscape of our state. Without the Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program, many of the hay storage barns that have appeared over the last few years on our farms, would not have been possible. Along with investments in better cattle genetics, handling equipment, healthier watering sources and feed storage facilities, alternative fuels and milk quality as well, the program has encouraged diversification and innovation on farms across the state. It has not only helped farms remain viable, but is also spurring investment in those farms that appeal to a changing consumer base in positive ways.
Now beginning its seventh year, the Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program will once again take applications for cost share farm projects. Since its start back in 2005, almost 27,000 farm projects have been funded with the program from monies appropriated through the Tennessee General Assembly. This year the program is attempting to reach more farmers. The Haslam administration has seen the successes of the recent years of the Enhancement Program and has given it the support it needs to give even more farmers a chance to participate. “Governor Haslam recognizes the importance of the Ag Enhancement Program and has again proposed full funding of the program,” Agriculture Commissioner Julius Johnson said. “This year, we’re putting more emphasis on helping farmers make strategic investments by asking them to prioritize their farm projects. This will help us reach more farmers and help us to be more deliberate about which projects get funded.”
This year’s application has just been released and must be turned in between June 1 – 7 and cannot be postmarked prior to June 1. In a recent release from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, it was reported that an important change for this year is that requests for funding will now be approved based on applicant determined priorities instead of on a first come, first serve basis as in prior years. If you are looking for an application, they are available at most farm agencies including USDA Farm Service Agency, UT Extension and Farm Bureau offices, as well as most farm supply stores. To ensure accuracy, producers are encouraged to work with their local extension agent or local TDA representative when completing the application.
TDA reports that through TAEP, farmers can qualify for 35 or 50 percent cost share, ranging from a maximum of $1,200 to $15,000 depending on the project. This year’s program will again offer cost sharing opportunities for genetics, livestock equipment, hay storage, feed storage, grain storage and producer diversification opportunities. In addition to the new approval process, other changes this year include cost share funds available for goats and sheep genetics in addition to cattle genetics. This year applicants can no longer receive funding for hay storage in two consecutive program years, and a maximum reimbursement amount per square foot has been established. In the area of producer diversification, all industry sectors are now eligible for 50 percent cost share.
TDA also says the producers can get important messages and updates on the program by calling 1-800-342-8206. For more information or to download an application, you may visit www.TN.gov/taep. I’m sure glad to see our farmers involved in making agriculture more viable than trying to keep a VW Rabbit alive attempting to revive the past.
*Pettus L. Read is Director of Communications for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org