In honor of “Ag Day on the Hill,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell faced off in a goat-milking contest Tuesday, with Harwell, a first-time milker, besting Ramsey, 700 ml to 350 ml.
Ramsey, who said that he grew up on a dairy farm, accused Harwell, a city-dweller, of cheating after watching House Finance Committee Chairman Charles Sargent pour extra milk into the speaker’s bucket.
“You’ve never seen cold milk come out of goat before, that’s all I’ll say, ok,” Ramsey said after Harwell was presented with the award, a milk bucket inscribed to “the one person with a lot of pull on Capitol Hill.”
Although the milk-off usually involves cows, this year the Tennessee Farm Bureau chose to use goats because Tennessee is number two in the nation for production in the goat and sheep industry, said Pettus Read, bureau spokesman.
The event is intended to “highlight the importance of farming and forestry to the state of Tennessee,” according to a press release from the Department of Agriculture. The release identifies agriculture as an important Tennessee industry that boosts the state’s annual economy by $71 billion and provides jobs for nearly 364,000 people.
Prior to the milk-off, Agriculture Commissioner Julius Johnson thanked Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, for organizing the event, and read a proclamation from Gov. Bill Haslam, declaring that the General Assembly would celebrate Ag Day.
Agriculture plays an important part in Tennessee’s economy, representing nearly 78,000 farms and 10.9 million acres of land, and annually generating more than $3 billion in farm income and almost $1 billion in Agricultural exports, according to the proclamation.
“I think that the best thing that we can do is show that agriculture in Tennessee is such a huge industry, but it’s also a very diverse industry,” Holt said, and added that having “Ag Day” at the Capitol is a good way to showcase the positive side of agriculture to people who might only see the negative side.
Among the many booths set up for the event was one from the Tennessee Soybean Promotion Council. Soybeans have a myriad of uses, according to a pamphlet from the council, which include biodiesel, paint, plastics, pharmaceuticals, burgers, chips, and glue.
“Soybeans is one of the major crops for Tennessee, so our farmers are very interested in making sure that all the representatives stay aware of soybeans,” said Julie McKelvey, of the Tennessee Soybean Promotion Council, and added that the inheritance tax is also a big deal for many involved in agriculture.
Gov. Bill Haslam proposed at the beginning of this legislative session to raise the exemption for the inheritance tax from $1 million to $1.25 million, and, although leadership supports the exemption, the legislation hasn’t experienced much movement.
Raising the inheritance tax exemption is something that many involved in agriculture have reason to support, said Darrell Ailshie, general manager of the Livestock Marketing Group for the Tennessee Livestock Producers.
“Most farmers are not cash rich, but they have a lot of investment in the land, they have investment in equipment, and the ability to put that in the hands of another generation that continue to produce food and fiber for us is extremely important,” Ailshie said. “ And we just want our legislators to know that we’re behind them, and that we support the process in the repeal of this inheritance tax.”
Ag Day is important in Ailshie’s eyes, not only because of how important agriculture is to the state, but also because it gives those involved in agriculture an opportunity to share their important issues with lawmakers.
“Agriculture is a big business, and it’s an important business to everybody, not just the folks in the rural areas or the folks on the farm,” Ailshie said. “It affects the folks that live in downtown, our cities, and across the state, because we provide their food and fiber in the safest, most abundant manner that we possibly can.”