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Rural Routes

Commissioner's Message: Education Investments, Fiscal Restraint Set Tennessee Apart

Dear Friends,

Last month, Gov. Haslam delivered his 2013 State of the State address before a joint session of the General Assembly. He drew sharp contrast between how Tennessee and Washington keep their fiscal houses in order. I agree with the governor that "good things are happening in Tennessee."

His proposed budget doesn't just fund education, but the right investments, including a push to increase college graduation rates. The governor also reiterated his priorities in job creation, efficient and effective government and improved public safety. He outlined a plan to fund much needed capital improvements in higher education, a pay raise for state employees, an increase in the Rainy Day Fund and reductions in taxes.

Importantly for agriculture, the governor's budget fully funds the Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program to spur farm innovation and profitability. His proposed budget also includes $5 million for the construction of a new TDA weights and measures lab that will be critical for ensuring that Tennessee businesses can engage in fair and accurate commerce.

TDA is doing its part to help balance the budget by streamlining operations and placing a greater emphasis on core priorities. We remain committed to continuing the very best customer service possible.

As the General Assembly takes up the business of the state budget, we look forward to working with chairmen Steve Southerland and Curtis Halford and members of the newly formed legislative committees on agriculture as we strive to move Tennessee forward.

Julius Johnson

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Governor's Challenge: Process for Strategic Plan Development Gets Underway

In December, Gov. Bill Haslam issued a challenge to the Tennessee Farm Bureau, Department of Agriculture and the UT Institute of Agriculture to help develop a strategic plan for ensuring the growth and prosperity of agriculture and forestry over the next decade.

He set a goal to make Tennessee the number one state in the Southeast in the development of agriculture and forestry and emphasized opportunities to increase farm income and agribusiness investment. The governor said that he was looking for "practical, affordable, actionable steps that we can take to propel the industry into the future."

Leadership of the three institutions charged with guiding the planning process recently met at Ellington Agricultural Center in Nashville to lay out a road map for plan development. "We want to be open to all ideas and to gather as much input as possible that will aid in the development of a strategic plan from a strong producer and industry perspective," Agriculture Commissioner Julius Johnson said. Johnson serves on the executive committee with Farm Bureau president Lacy Upchurch and UT Institute of Agriculture Chancellor Larry Arrington.

Johnson said the executive committee expects to name a steering committee of producers and other stakeholders soon to help provide direction and feedback. The planning process will also involve research analysis, a series of focus group meetings, surveys, commodity and institutional input as well as expert testimony. Johnson says the process will also involve a one-day industry leadership summit planned for some time in late summer.

Johnson announced that Louis E. Buck, former deputy commissioner and former USDA Farm Service Agency state director has taken a temporary assignment with TDA to help facilitate plan development. Buck, more recently with Genera Energy and the U.S. Department of Defense, will be responsible for helping the three institutions meet the governor’s deadline of having a strategic plan available by the beginning of next year's legislative session.

More details will be made available as soon as possible through the media and other venues, including a website where stakeholders can follow plan development and find information on public input opportunities.

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Grain Indemnity Assessment Resumes March 1

An assessment on grain sold in Tennessee will be reactivated effective March 1 at a rate of 1 cent per bushel on soybeans and a half cent per bushel on all other grains. The purpose of the assessment is to increase the balance of the Tennessee Grain Indemnity Fund, which was established in 1989 to provide financial protection for grain producers against the failure of grain dealers and warehouses.

State law governing the fund was amended in 2011 to increase the minimum balance from $3 million to $10 million. The assessment on all grain will continue until the fund reaches the new $10 million minimum balance.

Tennessee producer organizations sought the changes in the state law due to the higher market value of grain. All grain producers who participate in the program can file a claim to recover losses in the event of a grain dealer or warehouse failure, depending on circumstances.

For more information about the Tennessee Grain Indemnity Fund, contact TDA's Consumer and Industry Services Division at 615-837-5150 or visit

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TDA Marketing Development Says Goodbye to Two Well-Known Employees

TDA recently bid farewell to two individuals who have played an important role in developing and managing our marketing programs.

Assistant Commissioner for Market Development Joe Gaines retired Feb. 1. Joe worked in state government for 43 years, starting as a forester in the former Department of Conservation and began his career in Agriculture in 1984. Some of his outstanding contributions to the department include helping to establish the department's marketing services, helping to increase farm income from Pick Tennessee Products, the "Ag Tag" agricultural development fund, agribusiness development, the Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program and other programs and services.

Dan Strasser, director of marketing, first came to the department as an intern in the 90s. After college he became a vital part of our Market Development Division. He started out as a marketing specialist, became the first agritourism coordinator for the department and then moved into the director of marketing position. After eight years with TDA, Dan is leaving to pursue a career with the Tennessee Farm Bureau.

While we are sad to see these two great employees leave, we are committed to continuing the good work and building upon their success.

Commissioner Johnson says he expects to be able to name new leadership and direction for this vital service to industry in the near future.

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Spring Fire Season Prompts Burn Permit Reminder

With spring drawing near, Tennesseans begin to take advantage of the mild weather to do some yard work around the home or farm. The Tennessee Department of Agriculture Division of Forestry wants to remind citizens that if they are considering doing outdoor burning, a burn permit is required.

"Burn permits are an important tool for helping us distinguish between regular outdoor burns and wildfires, and it gives us a way to provide landowners with information on when and how to burn safely," said state forester Jere Jeter.

The free burn permits are required in all areas of the state by law until May 15 unless otherwise covered by local ordinances. Residents should check with their city and county government for any local restrictions.

Permits can now be obtained online for small scale burning of leaf and brush piles measuring less than 8 feet by 8 feet in area. The online system was developed to more efficiently issue permits to landowners conducting small scale debris burns, and to provide better access through the weekend and after-work hours for landowners. These permits can be obtained on days and in counties where burn permits are allowed by visiting The website is also a good source of information for safe debris burning practices and fire prevention tips including how to protect your home in the event of a wildfire.

The permits can also still be obtained by calling your local Division of Forestry office between the hours of 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday thru Friday. Permits are generally good for 24 hours and can be issued for weekend burning. Phone numbers for each office can be found in the state government section of your local phone book, or by visiting

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Farmers Market Boot Camps a Success

Farmers markets continue to grow in popularity across the state. To help vendors better understand how to market their produce and how to address certain business issues, the University of Tennessee Center for Profitable Agriculture and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture have been conducting farmers market "boot camps."

Many of the topics discussed at "boot camp" are designed to help vendors understand marketing techniques that can help make their booths more profitable. This includes discussions on effective signage, understanding and connecting with customers and the subtle messaging involved through word and wardrobe choices.

On the business management side, additional discussions have centered on understanding sales tax requirements and exemptions, expanding sales through market-wide electronic payments and insurance applications and limitations.

Vendors have also enjoyed the opportunity to hear success stories and experiences that other farmers have had at farmers markets.

Pamela Bartholomew, TDA's Agritourism and Farmers Market Marketing Specialist, says the "boot camps" which began this month have been very successful. "We have had a great turnout. This year we held them in rural communities and it's given us a chance to make contact with many individual farmers." If you are interested in attending a farmers market "boot camp," there will be two more held in East Tennessee in March. Details can be found at the Center for Profitable Agriculture's website at

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Second Annual Mosquito and Vector Control Meeting held at EAC

The Tennessee Mosquito and Vector Control Association held its second annual meeting at the Ellington Agricultural Center in Nashville Feb. 12 – 13. Approximately 60 people attended, including representatives from Vanderbilt University, the University of Tennessee, Belmont, Austin Peay State University, Metro Public Health, Knox and Shelby counties, and commercial applicators engaged in mosquito control.

The meeting was an opportunity to hear updated information and share experiences in dealing with mosquitos and disease transmission. The agenda included status updates on West Nile Virus and Rocky Mountain Spotted Tick Fever in Tennessee, a demonstration of bed bug inspections using dogs and a presentation on the West Nile outbreak in Texas in 2012.

The TMVCA seeks to promote control and research of mosquitoes and other vectors in the state of Tennessee by facilitating professional cooperation and collaboration between mosquito and vector abatement districts, public health departments, applied and basic scientists, commercial municipality vector control specialists and the general public.

For more information visit or call 615-262-6456.

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Feb 16-23 National FFA Week
Feb 22-23 Tennessee FFA Alumni Convention, Montgomery Bell State Park
Feb 22-23 Tennessee Organic Growers Association Conference, Murfreesboro
Feb 24-26 Annual Meat Conference, Nashville
Feb 26-27 Mid-South Stocker Conference, Somerset, KY
Mar 1 Arbor Day, Knoxville
Mar 1-2 Mid-South Farm and Gin Show, Memphis
Mar 4-5 Farmers Market Boot Camp, Knoxville & Kingsport
Mar 8-10 Tennessee Beef Agribition, Lebanon
Mar 12-13 Tennessee Environmental Conference, Kingsport
Mar 19 National Ag Day
Mar 24-27 Tennessee 4-H Congress, Nashville
Apr 2 Ag Day on the Hill, Nashville
Apr 6 Annual Mule Day Parade, Columbia
Apr 10-11 Annual Rural Development Conference, Cookeville

Ellington Agricultural Center | 440 Hogan Road | Nashville, TN 37220