As Gov. Haslam’s administration comes to an end, I’m extremely pleased with the great work and devoted efforts that have come from our state government. During my time with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, one focus I’m particularly proud of is our work to assist and promote Tennessee’s food, farm and forest businesses.
Even if you have the best innovation or idea, the thought of having an international customer base can be daunting. By reorganizing our Agricultural Advancement Division, we’ve been able to expand our focus on assisting Tennessee businesses with a renewed emphasis on international trade and exports.
In September, five Tennessee food and beverage businesses made lasting connections and discussed future trade deals during an outbound trade mission to Canada. Soon after that, we were excited to help host the Southern Forest Products Export Conference in Memphis, which showcased the importance of southern forest products and the industry that produces them.
While we’re promoting trade abroad, we will always make sure we focus on strengthening local markets. Our Agriculture Enterprise Fund (AEF) program started one year ago with a primary focus to facilitate agricultural development in at-risk and distressed counties in Tennessee. We’ve already awarded more than $1.3 million through the AEF, and these investments will lead to a total economic impact of more than $25 million throughout the state. Furthermore, many farmers and producers have utilized our Tennessee Agriculture Enhancement Program (TAEP). The program has paid more than $168 million to assist 57,549 projects since it was established in 2005.
Supporting the marketplace and processing facilities that farmers and foresters use can be just as important as assisting with on-farm projects. We understand the need for additional USDA-inspected meat processing capacity, and I appreciate the work our team has recently done to assist in increasing the amount of processors in the state to 16 while also further developing our active locations. We are continuing to work diligently with current facilities on expansion projects as well as assisting those interested in building new facilities to extend this progress for our livestock producers who need it.
Producers benefit from having multiple avenues to market and sell their products. With this in mind, I’m pleased that we have assisted more than 500 farmers market projects across the state by awarding more than $2.5 million through TAEP.
Tennessee farmers know how to make the most of what they’ve got, and many have always had to work with limited resources. I’m proud of the staff at the Tennessee Department of Agriculture for being an additional resource for those who need it. And I’m proud of the work that has been done to ensure that our agriculture and forestry industry remains strong and profitable for generations to come.
I appreciate Gov. Haslam for giving me the opportunity to serve in this role. My time with farmers, foresters, and consumers from the greatest state in the country will always be a highlight of my life.
I hope you and your family have a Merry Christmas, a happy New Year, and a safe holiday season. Thank you for all of your support during my time as Tennessee’s Commissioner of Agriculture.
Jai Templeton is Tennessee’s Commissioner of Agriculture.