|By ANN HINCH
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Last year, more than 1,500 farmers and cattle producers took advantage of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s (TDA) Agricultural Enhancement Program, to the tune of more than $2 million.
Since July 1, 1,000 more producers have applied for and received $1.3 million to purchase bulls and handling equipment for their beef and dairy herds.
Last year, the Tennessee General Assembly approved $5 million for the cost-share grants; for 2006-07, it OKed $6 million. The deadline to apply for these funds, Sept. 30, is quickly approaching, and it’s not just cattle people who can qualify.
Farmers, horticulturalists and small livestock producers are among those who may apply for the Agricultural Growth Initiative. This is designed to reimburse up to 35 percent on projects which diversify farm operations – agri-tourism is probably the best-known example, and the practice garners a significant share of grants, according to TDA Commissioner Ken Givens.
The partial support is to encourage self-investment, as is the $10,000 annual cap for individual grants. “Any businessperson’s not going to invest that kind of money on their own without expecting (a profit) in return,” Givens explained of the balance.
For example, Ritter Farms in Grainger County received a $10,000 reimbursement on a kitchen costing nearly $40,000. The new facility allows the family to can bruised and overripe – but still tasty – vegetables and fruits and create baked goods for sale in their on-site farm store.
With the kitchen, the Ritters estimate they’ll realize an increased income of $25,000 in the first year alone.
Other projects which received funding last year included those using aquaculture, bees, horticulture, goats and sheep and, of course, fruits and vegetables. Several Warren County applicants were approved for horticulture-related improvements, such as greenhouses and irrigation and spraying equipment.
Organics and viticulture projects receive up to 50 percent reimbursement because of their painstaking nature. “There is a lot more time involved in grapes and organics before you realize your first dollar (of income),” Givens pointed out.
Before applying, people should make sure their project meets TDA approval standards, by speaking with Jan Keyser at 615-837-5346 or by e-mail at Ag.Growth@state.tn.us
Recipients will be announced Oct. 16 and will have up to a year to complete their projects.
Beef and dairy producers have to meet guidelines before applying, too. They must register their premises with one of several approved agencies for the National Animal Identification System, and they must be certified under the Tennessee Cattlemen’s Assoc. Beef Quality Assurance Program.
The limits on the Cattle Improvement Initiative are 35 percent as well – up to $700 toward a bull purchase and up to $850 for certain equipment.
Not only do better chutes and headgates streamline producers’ work, they cut down on injuries, said Givens, a former cattle producer. “Almost any farmer you find, can use better handling facilities,” he added.
The Sept. 30 deadline is to help prioritize recipients. According to Givens, applicants who did not receive money last year will be first in line, though past recipients will also be eligible based on merit. This deadline is less strict than for the Ag Growth Initiative, and will extend as long as there are funds this fiscal year.
“It’d certainly be nice if we could increase that state funding” in future years, Givens said, hoping this will become an annual tradition.
If so, the scope of the reimbursement would probably expand.
One idea is to award grants to help construct hay storage buildings – a particularly timely issue in light of this summer’s nearly statewide drought, which has forced several cattle producers to feed hay months early in a year when production is already sparse. A good 80 percent of round bales are kept outside, which Givens explained diminishes its quality.
“Hay that is left over from one year to the other, that is not properly stored, just becomes mulch,” he said.
To inquire about eligibility for this year’s Cattle Improvement Initiative, call 615-837-5304 or e-mail CattleImprove firstname.lastname@example.org
This farm news was published in the Sept. 13, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.