Category Archives: agriculture

TN couple pleads guilty to chicken abuse, fined $25 each

DRESDEN, Tenn. (AP) — The owners of a West Tennessee farm where animal rights activists took undercover video have pleaded no contest to one count each of animal cruelty.

Thomas and Susan Blassingame were fined $25 each and given just under a year of unsupervised probation.

They were charged after the nonprofit Mercy for Animals released a video in August that showed the couple killing chickens on their T & S farm by hitting them with a spiked stick.

Tyson Foods cut ties with the farm, and the Blassingames’ attorney, Steve Conley, says the couple has since retired.

Conley says he thinks the couple could have won had the case gone to trial, but the Blassingames did not want to.

He says “They didn’t want to go through the stress” of a trial.

Lacy Upchurch exits as TN Farm Bureau president

Tennessee Farm Bureau President W. Lacy Upchurch announced Monday he will not seek another term as leader of the nation’s largest farm bureau, reports the Columbia Daily Herald.

Upchurch was elected in 2005 to lead the farm bureau, which is headquartered in Columbia and employs 700 there, and has been a strong advocate for farming and agriculture in the state. The beef cattle producer, who lives on a farm in Cumberland County with his wife, Kay, was the seventh president in the organization’s 94-year history.

“After much thought and prayer, I have decided not to seek another term,” Upchurch said. “My heart, however, will always be with Farm Bureau and the Christian principles that make this organization strong.

“I’ve been blessed to work with an effective state board, staff and many others who have contributed to what we have been able to do. Part of me would love to stay and continue to serve, but I feel strongly about knowing when to pass the torch. Kay and I have a farm calling us home, children and grandchildren to spend time with and hopefully an opportunity to work more in our church and community.”

Membership has grown by more than 38,000 during Upchurch’s presidency. He will be replaced at the Farm Bureau’s annual meeting, Dec. 7-8 in Franklin.

Farm operators charged with chicken abuse

DRESDEN, Tenn. (AP) — The owners of a Tennessee chicken farm have been charged with animal cruelty after an undercover video caught them abusing the birds.

According to an affidavit in the General Sessions Court of Weakley County, T&S Poultry owners Thomas and Suzanne Blassingame are accused of “stabbing them with a large spike attached to a pole and failing to promptly and properly euthanize the chickens.”

The incident occurred between July 28 and August 23 in Dukedom, Tennessee, an unincorporated community in both Graves County, Kentucky, and Weakley County, Tennessee, that straddles the state line in the western part of both states.

The video was shot by the advocacy group Mercy For Animals, which turned the footage over to the Weakley County Sheriff’s Department.

The farm supplied birds for McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets.

McDonald’s as well as Tyson Foods have since severed ties with the farm.

EPA seeks $177K in pollution penalties from Rep. Andy Holt

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A state lawmaker is facing up to $177,500 in fines from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for discharging waste from his northwestern Tennessee hog farm without a permit.

WTVF-TV in Nashville ( ) first reported Thursday that the EPA has filed the complaint against state Rep. Andy Holt, a Dresden Republican and vice chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. According to the filing, Holt’s farm discharged a total of more than 860,000 gallons from lagoons on the farm raising nearly 1,500 swine without proper authorization.

Holt, who has been a vocal critic of the EPA, told WTVF that he “loves a good fight,” but that he has also been in discussions about a settlement. He said he self-reported the discharges to the state after heavy rainfall had caused the lagoons to overflow.

State records have showed that Holt ran his farm without a permit for nearly three years when he was finally ordered to turn in required permitting paperwork in 2012. While Holt submitted incomplete papers in 2012 and 2013, the state let him keep operating.

Holt said he ceased operations on his hog farm around December 2014.
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Undercover TN Walking Horse abuse videos bring new investigation

By Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Three years after a prominent Tennessee walking horse trainer pleaded guilty to abuse charges following the release of undercover videos, a new horse abuse investigation is under way.

The Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office is investigating allegations of Tennessee walking horse abuse at ThorSport Farm following new videos the Humane Society of the United States says show trainers applying caustic substances onto horses’ forelegs to irritate them. The trainers then place chains over the inflamed area that hit the forelegs as the horses walk.

The illegal training method is known as soring and is used to create the “big lick” gait prized at some horse shows.

The Humane Society says an undercover stable worker took the videos and also collected samples of the chemicals applied to the horses’ legs. Testing found them to contain salicylic acid and mustard oil, among other illegal substances, Humane Society Vice President of Equine Protection Keith Dane said.

In an emailed statement, stable owner Duke Thorson said, “ThorSport Farm has a well-earned reputation for operating ethically and legally, and we emphatically reject the HSUS’s charges of soring.”
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Legislator says state going overboard in warnings against raw milk

A state legislator who pushed legalization of “cow share” raw milk marketing in Tennessee contends the state Department of Health has gone overboard in continued warnings to consumers that nonpasteurized milk can be dangerous.

“Consuming raw milk in the belief it’s healthier than pasteurized milk is a perilous risk that shakes off the possibility of a range of serious and occasionally fatal illnesses for the individuals and anyone they share it with,” said state Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner in a July 21 news release. “Our best choice for healthy, nutritious milk is the pasteurized kind. Even if one believes there are health benefits, an upside, is it worth gambling on the downside risk of a serious illness, especially in a child?”

The release (Note: posted HERE) says the department has confirmed two cases of cryptosporidiosis in the Chattanooga area that are “associated with consumption of raw milk from a dairy cow share program” and is checking to determine if others were sickened as well.

Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, said there is no more risk to raw milk than pasteurized milk and probably less. Cryptosporidiosis is a parasite-caused ailment linked to animal waste and, according to Niceley, more often to beef cattle than milk cattle. In any case, he said, it involves exposure to the waste and not to the drinking of raw milk in and of itself.

“Blue Bell ice cream killed three people, and it’s made with pasteurized milk,” the senator said in an interview last week. “Why aren’t they up in arms warning about that?”

Blue Bell Creameries in April announced a nationwide recall of ice cream after reports of the product being contaminated with listeria bacteria. National media has reported that three deaths in Kansas appear linked to the contamination.
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TN Health commissioner: Don’t drink raw milk, even though it’s legal

News release from state Department of Health
NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Department of Health is investigating multiple gastrointestinal disease reports among people who say they consumed raw milk prior to their illness. TDH has confirmed two cases of cryptosporidiosis in individuals in the Chattanooga/Hamilton County Region. Both cases of illness are associated with consumption of raw milk from a dairy cow share program. TDH is interviewing additional participants in the program to determine if other people have been sickened. In recent months, TDH has interviewed individuals about sporadic cases of Campylobacter and Shiga-toxin producing E. coli who also reported consuming raw milk from different sources.

“Consuming raw milk in the belief it’s healthier than pasteurized milk is a perilous risk that shakes off the possibility of a range of serious and occasionally fatal illnesses for the individuals and anyone they share it with,” said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “Our best choice for healthy, nutritious milk is the pasteurized kind. Even if one believes there are health benefits, an upside, is it worth gambling on the downside risk of a serious illness, especially in a child?”

Cow share programs were made legal in Tennessee in 2009, allowing wider access to raw milk. Since that time TDH has had increasing reports of disease and outbreaks linked to raw milk consumption. In 2013, nine Tennessee children became extremely sick with E. coli O157 after drinking raw milk. Five of these children required hospitalization and three developed severe, life-threatening kidney problems.

“The Department of Agriculture has a thorough dairy inspection program focused on detecting potential health risks before milk reaches the consumer,” Tennessee Department of Agriculture Commissioner Julius Johnson said. “Legal pasteurization through a licensed dairy facility is the only way to ensure that dairy products are safe to consume. Despite a producer’s best intentions, without pasteurization, bacteria exposure is a real danger.”
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Emerald Ash Borer reaches Bledsoe, Cumberland counties

News release from state Department of Agriculture
NASHVILLE – A quarantine for Emerald Ash Borer (EAB), an invasive insect that destroys ash trees, has been expanded to include two more Tennessee counties.

With EAB discovered in traps in Bledsoe and Cumberland, both counties have now been added to the list of areas restricted for the movement of ash trees and ash tree products. This brings the total number of Tennessee counties under a state and federal EAB quarantine to 41.

EAB is a destructive forest pest that was introduced from Asia into the United States in the 1990s. This pest was first detected in Tennessee in 2010 in Knox County. The Department of Agriculture and USDA-APHIS have worked together to identify EAB infestation using purple box traps placed in trees across the state.
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Ramsey delivers $2.2M ‘gift’ to home county

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey “hand-delivered a $2.2 million gift to Sullivan County” on Monday, reports the Kingsport Times-News.

Ramsey came to the Sullivan County Commission to unveil plans for an agricultural center that supporters say will provide much-needed meeting space and also contribute to tourism and economic development efforts in the county.

The center is projected to open within a year off Spurgeon Lane along Highway 75, north of Tri-Cities Regional Airport.

A state grant of $2.2 million will be used to purchase (about $500,000) and renovate (about $1.7 million) an existing steel frame building.

Ownership will be transferred to the county, which in turn is tentatively expected to lease the facility for $1 a year to a soon-to-be formed 501c3 nonprofit group that will oversee operation of the agricultural center.

Once remodeled, the building will include a 250-seat conference center.

The University of Tennessee’s Institute of Agriculture Extension Office will move to the facility from its current location in the Sullivan County Office Building at State Route 126 and Blountville Boulevard.

The facility also will serve as a gathering place for the Cattlemen’s Association, which supporters said has experienced such growth in attendance that it has had to travel as far as Abingdon, Va., to find a big enough venue for recent meetings.

Former state Rep. Clint Callicott dies, age 66

Clint Callicot, former state representative and former Williamson County executive, has died at age 66, reports The Tennessean.

He died Wednesday morning at his farm in the Hickman County community of Only, after a years-long battle with colon cancer, said his son, Clayton Callicott.

Friends and family members said that Callicott’s love of agriculture and his genuine love of people guided his work as a public servant. (An arena at the Williamson County Agricultural Expo park is named in his honor.)

“You’d have to talk to him about yourself for about 15 minutes before he’d talk about himself,” said Clayton Callicott. “He was always available when he was in office.”
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