Category Archives: agriculture

Trump names Tipton County farmer as Ag advisor

From a Politico report:

Donald Trump on Tuesday unveiled a list of agricultural advisers brimming with Republican heavy hitters, including Govs. Sam Brownback and Terry Branstad and several top farm-state lawmakers in a move that seemed aimed at quelling criticisms he is relying on a mostly third-string team.

The New York City real estate mogul’s rural and agriculture advisory committee — comprising 65 people — is a Who’s Who of farm policy, with five members of Congress, including the chairmen of the House and Senate agriculture committees, 10 current and former farm-state governors and two former GOP presidential nomination rivals, former Govs. Rick Perry and Jim Gilmore.

It’s an astoundingly mainstream roster for a candidate who seized the nomination on a wave of anti-establishment fury, splintering the party along the way.

There’s one Tennessean on the list: Charlotte Kelley of Tipton County, a former county commissioner, who, along with husband Richard, farms 14,000 acres of cotton and operates a cotton gin in Burlison, according to Michael Collins.

Action anticipated on TN Walking Horse ‘soring’ rules

Lawmakers and animal-rights activists who have pushed the federal government to crack down on an illegal practice that’s sometimes used to give Tennessee Walking Horses their exaggerated, high-stepping gait are hopeful that President Barack Obama’s administration will soon act on related new rules, according to The Tennessean.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture served notice in April that it is proposing a new rule to strengthen federal requirements aimed at eliminating the practice known as “soring.”

The proposed changes would update the existing Horse Protection Act and would impact everything from inspection procedures to the responsibilities of managers of show horses, exhibitions, sales and auctions. The agency said it’s also looking at devices, equipment, substances and practices that can cause soring.

In late May, a bipartisan group of House members urged the administration to move as quickly as possible on the new rule so it can be finalized before Obama leaves office next January.

“These changes will not destroy the Tennessee Walking Horse industry, as you may hear from opponents of the proposed rule, but will instead save this industry from imploding because of the bad actors who continue to abuse horses at the expense of the breed’s reputation,” the lawmakers said in a letter to Shaun Donovan, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.

The letter to Donovan was signed by 175 House members, including U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, a Memphis Democrat. Cohen was the only Tennessean whose signature appeared on the letter.

“Soring horses is both illegal and morally unacceptable, but some trainers are clearly taking advantage of lax oversight and wide loopholes to do it anyway,” Cohen said last week. “We need to strengthen enforcement of the Horse Protection Act and ensure that trainers are following the law to finally put an end to this terrible abuse.”

With TDEC approval (?), chicken farmers dodge pollution regulations

With apparent approval of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, WTVF-TV reports a Macon County husband and wife split their chicken production property in half to avoid the need for a permit and the stricter regulations that go with it.

The farm’s owner Ryan Russell applied for a permit to house up to 70 thousand chickens, but a farm that size required annual inspections and regular oversight. So Russell divided his property between the barns — putting two barns in his wife’s name — and two in his name.
Suddenly both were small enough to avoid the stricter regulations.

(The four chicken barns provide chickens for a Cobb-Vantress, a subsidiary of Tyson Chicken.)

… Sierra Club Attorney Brian Paddock was shocked when we showed him how the husband and wife operations were able to get around regulations… “They’re doing everything they can to avoid regulation and they probably know that the cop waves them through,” Paddock said.

The cop in this case is the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation — which is supposed to make sure tons of manure from the barns doesn’t pollute surrounding streams.

Our investigation uncovered e-mails in which an executive with Cobb – Vantress laid out plans to split the farm to the state.

The executive writes “just wanting to make sure we are on the same page before Ryan spends the money to have his two farms split up. If he has two farms split up to where one is in his name and one is in his wife’s name will that make it so that he doesn’t have to apply for a CAFO permit.”

After the state gave the split their approval, the Cobb – Vantress executive forwards the e-mail to farmer Ryan Russell… with an FYI and an explanation point.

TDEC would not do an interview about the situation. But their spokesperson said the land owners may have taken advantage of the situation, but insisted the state never advised them to split their property.

…Cobb-Vantress said in a statement… “The email you have referred to is a communication to clarify a request about information regarding the farms’ operation status. Our complex manager asked TDEC a question and TDEC responded. Our manager then provided the information to the farmer.”

Tom Womack named deputy Ag commissioner

News release from Department of Agriculture
NASHVILLE– With nearly 30 years of experience working for the state, Tom Womack will continue his service in a new role as Deputy Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture.

Commissioner-Appointee Jai Templeton made the announcement today, with an effective date of May 1.

“I am delighted that Tom has accepted the appointment,” Templeton said. “He has given his career to this department and the industry I hold so dear. For almost three decades, Tom has been a confidant to Tennessee’s Commissioners of Agriculture. He knows the department and its people, as well the various constituencies, stakeholders and citizens we serve. He has their confidence and will continue to build strong relationships.”
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Templeton named TN agriculture commissioner

News release from the governor’s office
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced the appointment of Jai Templeton, a sixth generation Tennessee farmer, as commissioner of the Department of Agriculture effective May 1. Templeton will replace Julius Johnson who last week announced his retirement.

Templeton, 44, currently serves as the department’s deputy commissioner, leading the day-to-day operations and directing programs and services that range from food safety to animal and plant health to agricultural development.

“Jai has played a critical role in developing the department’s 10 year strategic plan to grow Tennessee’s agricultural and forest industries. As a lifelong farmer, he will be a champion for the farming industry and continue the department’s work to strengthen our rural communities,” Haslam said. Continue reading

House beats Senate in corny competition

House Speaker Beth Harwell’s team defeated Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey’s team for the second year in a corn shelling competition held as part of “Agriculture Day on the Hill. This follows two years of House team victories in milking contests that were the standard before “Ag Day” became corny competition for the House and Senate.

From the Tennessean’s account:

House Speaker Beth Harwell and her bipartisan team of corn shellers have got a good thing going.

The three-member team, including Harwell and Reps. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, and John Mark Windle, D-Livingston, narrowly edged a Senate team led by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey to retain a golden trophy commemorating the annual competition.

Although Harwell lost a coin toss resulting in her team going first, her squad bested Ramsey’s, which included Sens. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, and Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains — who was wearing coveralls on top of his regular garb — after shelling 16 pounds of corn. The Senate team, who jokingly accused Harwell’s team of cheating in last year’s competition, managed to shell 15.8 pounds.

Note: Cheating allegations are nothing new to House-Senate contests, both during “Ag Day” and otherwise. A post on the Ag Day scandal of 2012 is HERE.

Julius Johnson retiring as state Ag commissioner

News release from the governor’s office:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced Department of Agriculture Commissioner Julius Johnson will retire at the end of April.

Johnson has led the department since the start of the administration in 2011 and was Haslam’s first commissioner appointment. He has been instrumental in development of the Governor’s Rural Challenge: a 10 year strategic plan to grow Tennessee’s agricultural and forest industries. Under Johnson’s leadership, many goals of the plan have already been met and foundations laid for future projects.
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Senators vote to cut UT diversity, boost agriculture

The Senate Education Committee voted Wednesday to strip the University of Tennessee’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion of all but its federal funding and to transfer $8 million from the university’s administration into its agricultural extension service and rural outreach programs.

Further from the News-Sentinel:

The committee approved an amendment by its chairwoman, Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, to the UT budget submitted by Gov. Bill Haslam that would have the effect of defunding the diversity office at UT Knoxville – the target of conservative ire since a pair of controversial web posts regarding gender-neutral pronouns and inclusive holiday parties. The panel’s action isn’t final: it will require concurrence by the full Senate and the House before it could go into effect.

Anthony Haynes, UT’s vice president for government relations and advocacy, said after the meeting that university officials “certainly understand the motivation behind the amendment.”

“We’re hopeful that we can work it out before we pass the final budget in April,” Haynes said.

The amendment’s approval followed an earlier 2½-hour hearing by the House education committees on diversity issues at UT and the Tennessee Board of Regents system.

As passed, the amendment:

Transfers $5 million from the funds appropriated to UT Knoxville to the UT Agricultural Extension Service for its programs and services. That’s the amount that the office of diversity and inclusion currently receives annually: $1.3 million on compliance and reporting activities dealing with federal law, and $3.7 million for campus diversity programming.

Declares that “only federal funds shall be expended to support the office of diversity and inclusion” at UT Knoxville.

Transfers $3 million from funds appropriated for administration and salaries on the Knoxville campus to UT Chattanooga and UT Martin (at $1.5 million each) “for the sole purpose of rural outreach programs.”

Gresham owns a cattle farm in Fayette County and faces a re-election challenge in this year’s Republican primary by Savannah Mayor Bob Shutt, who has said he’s running to bring more rural development to the eight-county 26th Senate District.

TN Farm Bureau has a new president

Washington County farmer Jeff Aiken, 52, has been elected president of the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation, succeeding Lacy Upchurch of Cumberland County, who had announced his retirement earlier.

From a news release (full version HERE):
Aiken has served as vice-president since 2012, and a director-at-large on the state board of directors since 1998 when he was elected to that office by the Farm Bureau’s county leadership statewide. He has headed up numerous committees at the state level, as well as being his county’s president for many years. He has held the office of state YF&R chairman and was the 1992 Tennessee Young Farmer of the Year.
Aiken and his wife Carol farm 900 acres near Telford in upper East Tennessee where he produces corn, hay, straw, 100 acres of tobacco and more than 600 head of beef cattle.

Elected as the new vice president was Humphreys County farmer Eric Mayberry. Mayberry, 50, and his wife Lynn farm 1000 acres of row crops and a nearly 300 head commercial cow/calf operation near Hurricane Mills. Mayberry was first elected to the state board of directors representing District II in 2005. He has also served on his county’s board of directors since 1988, including five years as president.

Animal protection group rates TN legislators

News release from Tennessee Voters for Animal Protection
NASHVILLE, NOVEMBER 5, 2015 – Tennessee Voters for Animal Protection (TVAP), a non-partisan, grassroots political action committee, released their annual Legislative Report and Scorecard today, which summarizes how the 109th General Assembly performed this year with regard to animal protection issues in Tennessee.

“This year we have great news to share about four animal-protection bills that were proposed and passed in the Tennessee General Assembly,” said Payton Robbins, TVAP’s Legislative Liaison. “These four bills—aimed at establishing an animal abuse registry, rescuing a distressed animal from a vehicle, increasing penalties for animal fighting and increasing penalties for killing a service animal—passed with large majorities in both the House and the Senate.”

Passing this many animal-friendly bills in one session hasn’t always been the case. “Year after year, some legislators were going against the will of their constituents by killing these bills in the Agriculture Committees,” said Robbins. “Last year, TVAP started an online petition asking that animal-related bills be given a fair hearing and thousands of concerned Tennesseans signed our petition. The result has been a very positive one,” said Robbins.

There were also more sponsors and co-sponsors of animal-friendly bills than ever. Those receiving the highest scores were Sen. Steven Dickerson, Sen. Ferrell Haile, Rep. Darren Jernigan, Sen. Bill Ketron, Rep. Jon Lundberg, and Rep. Art Swann. Those receiving the lowest scores were Rep. Kelly Keisling, Sen. Frank Niceley, and Rep. Rick Womick.

Tennessee Voters for Animal Protection is a political action committee that endorses humaneminded candidates, raises funds from concerned citizens to donate to political campaigns, and organizes volunteers to campaign for humane-minded candidates in Tennessee. For more information, please visit www.tnanimalprotection.org.

Note: Download the group’s legislative scorecard HERE. It’s a pretty hefty file.