Press Releases

TN Dept. of Agriculture: Industrial Hemp Production Applications Now Ready

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture; January 26, 2015:

NASHVILLE— The Tennessee Department of Agriculture is now accepting applications from farmers and producers interested in growing industrial hemp.

In 2013, the Tennessee General Assembly enacted Public Chapter 916 tasking the department with development of a licensing and inspection program for the production of industrial hemp in Tennessee. As provided in Sec. 7606 of the 2014 Farm Bill, industrial hemp may only be grown as part of a research or pilot project.

Industrial hemp is Cannabis sativa L., the same plant species as marijuana. However, industrial hemp has significantly lower tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content and is distinguished by its use and chemical makeup. You will find industrial hemp in a variety of products, including fabric, textiles, fibers, and foods. More than 30 nations grow industrial hemp as an agricultural commodity.

You can download an application and Memorandum of Understanding at

Please complete the application, sign the MOU and include the particular cultivar you wish to use and the quantity requested. If your application is approved, the department will assist in obtaining your seed in compliance with requirements of the Drug Enforcement Agency. Individuals are not permitted to import their own seed.

Email the completed application and MOU to

Or send it by mail to:

Industrial Hemp Program, Consumer and Industry Services Division,
TN Department of Agriculture
P.O. Box 40627
Nashville, TN  37204

Press Releases

Pikeville Receives $59K Dept. of Ag Grant for Farmer’s Market

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture; July 8, 2014:

NASHVILLE – Gov. Bill Haslam and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture today announced a $59,200 Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program grant to Bledsoe County and the city of Pikeville to help fund the construction of a new farmers market pavilion.

“I’m happy to announce this grant to help the county and city build a farmers market pavilion to better serve the area’s needs,” Haslam said. “The grant is part of our efforts to increase economic activity in our rural communities by responding to the growth in and demand for Tennessee’s fresh and local farm products.”

The grant follows a recommendation to increase local marketing opportunities for Tennessee farmers as outlined in the Governor’s Rural Challenge: A 10-Year Strategic Plan. The plan was developed last year at the request of Haslam to guide the state’s agricultural development efforts.

The grant is based on a proposal by the county and city to provide matching funds for the construction of a permanent pavilion for year-round use. The proposed 40 X 56-foot pavilion will be located at the site of the existing part-time market located in the downtown area of Pikeville.

The purpose of the TAEP Farmers Market Capital Development Grant Program is to increase income to Tennessee farmers by providing assistance for the establishment or improvement of farmers market in communities throughout the state.

“Farmers markets provide an excellent venue for farmers to sell their locally grown, farm fresh products directly to consumers,” Agriculture Commissioner Julius Johnson said. “Not only do these facilities help increase farm profitability but they also support agritourism and provide a focus for community and business activity year round.”

Gov. Haslam has fully funded the Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program for the past three years with the support of the Tennessee General Assembly. The program, funded through the state’s cigarette sales tax, was established in 2005 to help increase farm income and rural economic activity.

State Sen. Charlotte Burks (D-Monterey) and state Rep. Ron Travis (R-Dayton) represent Bledsoe County in the Tennessee General Assembly.

Press Releases

TN Dept. of Agriculture Accepting Grant Proposals for Water Quality Improvement Projects

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture; October 30, 2013:

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Department of Agriculture is now accepting grant proposals for projects that will help improve water quality and reduce or eliminate nonpoint source pollution. The deadline for submitting grant proposals is Dec. 1. Proposals will be evaluated based on program goals and objectives, performance evaluation criteria and applicable EPA nonpoint source grant guidelines.

“We’re able to make measurable improvements in water quality in watersheds across the state through the Nonpoint Source Pollution Program,” Agriculture Commissioner Julius Johnson said. “This is a great opportunity for local governments and other organizations to partner with us in addressing water quality issues in both our urban and rural communities.”

Local governments, regional agencies, public institutions, private nonprofit organizations and other state agencies are eligible to apply for federal dollars administered by TDA’s Water Resources office. Priority is given to projects that seek to make measurable improvements to waters known to be impaired by nonpoint source pollution.

Nonpoint source pollution is soil, urban runoff, fertilizers, chemicals and other contaminants that come from many different sources and degrades surface and groundwater quality. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation assesses water quality and compiles a list of impaired waters. The list can be found online at

Other priorities for funding include water quality related educational programs, projects that implement an approved Total Maximum Daily Load in a watershed area and projects that reduce urban runoff.

The FY 2014 Request for Proposals can be found online at, or for more information contact TDA’s Nonpoint Pollution Program at 615-837-5306 or

NewsTracker Tax and Budget Uncategorized

Loose Financial Controls in State Ag Department Facilitated Fraud, Audit Finds

A lack of financial oversight allowed one soil conservation district employee to embezzle almost $50,000 and another district to post a shortfall of $50,000, according to an audit of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture.

Lax money monitoring also allowed questionable grants to be awarded to the Tennessee State Fair Association and delayed inspections of food manufacturers, a recently released ag agency audit by the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury reported. The audit also suggested updating the Weights and Measures laboratory to help Tennessee businesses.

The department audit highlighted the comptroller’s April 2013 investigative audit of the Chester County Soil Conservation District, which found a former secretary “misappropriated” at least $47,460 between 2007-2011.

The findings resulted in the arrest and conviction of Stacey Clark, of Henderson, Tenn. She pleaded guilty to three charges related to the theft. Clark was charged with writing more than 100 checks to herself or to “cash.” She also created false bank statements and forged a district official’s name to conceal her embezzlement.

A grand jury indicted her in February on charges of theft of property over $10,000, forgery and tampering with evidence. Clark received five years probation for her guilty plea and was ordered to pay back $50,960 in restitution.

An audit of the Morgan County SCD found the board of directors did not provide proper financial oversight, which allowed for the district to post a cash shortage of at least $53,412.78.

The comptroller suggested all SCD boards need to meet regularly and review financial statements and promptly investigate discrepancies to avoid issues like this in the future.

The Department of Agriculture has hope reminding all soil conservation districts of current policies will help prevent fraud and financial mismanagement. To accomplish that, the department is writing a soil conservation district supervisor’s handbook, said Tom Womack, director of Public Affairs for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture.

“We believe there is adequate existing authority to greatly reduce the chances of misuse of funds with stepped up oversight by the State Soil Conservation Committee and local districts,” he said.

Soil conservation districts are funded by the state through the Department of Agriculture to prevent soil erosion.

“State funding of landowner conservation projects is critical for maintaining the progress that we’re making in reducing non-point source pollution from agricultural lands,” Womack said.

Grants issued prematurely

The audit found problems with two fiscal year 2011 reimbursement grants and a conflict-of-interest issue related to those grants. The grants were paid prematurely and without sufficient documentation justify the issuance of the grants to the Tennessee State Fair Association. There was also evidence of the questionable use of two other grants, one from FY 2012 and another in FY 2013. The cost of the problem grants total $260,000.

The department “will be working with the state committee to provide specific guidance on documenting grant payments and better educating local board members of their duties and responsibilities” to correct these issues, Womack said.

Food manufacturers not inspected within self-imposed time frames

Problems were also detected in the timeliness of inspections at retail food stores and food manufacturers.

Womack said the department is dedicated to the safety of Tennesseans and food safety and the audit refers to self-imposed goals, not government-mandated time frames.

“We are constantly striving to improve our own record in providing timely inspections and services,” Womack said. “We are confident that we are properly managing resources in order to place the highest priority on the areas of greatest risk and concern to public safety in all our regulatory programs.”

In its sample of inspections, the comptroller found 18 percent of food manufacturer inspections, while only 3 percent of retail food inspections, were not conducted within the required time frame.

Weights and Measures lab out of date

The comptroller also suggested the department should update the laboratory equipment in the Weights and Measures section of the Division of Regulatory Services.

The lab has been funded with $4.98 million by the General Assembly. The appropriation includes construction, administrative costs and new equipment. A new lab is slated to be built next year, with a target opening date of 2015, at Ellington Agricultural Center in Nashville.

This division is tasked with testing the accuracy of weighing and measuring devices in the state, such as fuel pumps, scales, and liquid propane meters.

“This will enable us to meet requirements set by state law that we maintain weights and measures standards traceable to national standards,” Womack said.

Currently equipment is 40 years old and “is outdated, substandard, and in need of significant improvement,” the comptroller said. Because of the substandard equipment Tennessee businesses that use scales calibrated by Weights and Measures are unable to do business in Alabama or Mississippi.

Press Releases

State Wine-Production Advisory Board to Meet Late January

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture; January 8, 2012:

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Viticulture Advisory Board will meet Jan. 25 at 3:30 p.m. CST at the Airport Marriot Hotel, in Nashville, Tenn. The agenda includes VAB member review and recommendations, 2012 grape crop, Stonebridge Research Study and other business.

The meeting is open to the public. Individuals interested in addressing the board should plan to arrive prior to the start of the meeting in order to be placed on the agenda.

The Tennessee Viticulture Advisory Board advises the Tennessee Department of Agriculture on matters pertaining to grape growing and wine production in Tennessee. For more information, contact Dan Strasser, director of marketing with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture at 615-837-5160, or e-mail

Press Releases

Disease Outbreak Spurs State to Quarantine Walnut Trees in Jefferson Co.

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture; December 10, 2012:

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Department of Agriculture today announced the discovery of a walnut tree killing disease, Thousand Cankers Disease (TCD), in Jefferson County. The county is now under quarantine. Hamblen County is now considered a buffer regulated county because it is adjacent to a quarantined county. Rhea County is also being placed in the buffer regulated category because Walnut Twig Beetles have been caught in the county but no TCD fungus has been found.

“We will continue to survey our forests and work to help slow the spread of the disease.” said TDA Plant Certification Administrator Gray Haun. “We are working with stakeholders to help educate citizens on the symptoms of TCD and how they can help.”

TCD is a progressive disease that may kill a tree within two to three years after initial symptoms are detected. The disease-causing fungus, Geosmithia morbida, is transmitted by the Walnut Twig Beetle, Pityophthorus juglandis. Branches and trunk tissue are killed by multiple infections of the fungus as the beetles carry the fungus from one area to the next.

TDA plant inspectors and foresters will continue to conduct a thorough survey of trees in these areas to assess the extent of the infestation and to see if more areas need to be quarantined. Counties already under quarantine for TCD include Anderson, Blount, Knox, Loudon, Sevier and Union. Adjacent counties to the quarantined areas are also restricted for movement of walnut products and hardwood firewood.

The Tennessee Department of Agriculture Division of Forestry estimates that 1.38 million black walnut trees in Tennessee’s urban areas are potentially at risk from TCD. The risk represents an estimated value loss of $1.37 billion. There are an estimated 26 million black walnut trees on Tennessee public and private timberland potentially valued as high as $1.47 billion.

TDA officials urge area residents and visitors to help prevent the spread of TCD:

  • Don’t transport firewood, even within Tennessee. Don’t bring firewood along for camping trips. Buy the wood you need from a local source. Don’t bring wood home with you.
  • Don’t buy or move firewood from outside the state. If someone comes to your door selling firewood, ask them about the source, and don’t buy wood from outside the state.
  • Watch for signs of infestation in your black walnut trees. If you suspect your black walnut tree could be infested with TCD, visit for an online symptoms checklist and report form or call TDA’s Regulatory Services Division at 1-800-628-2631.

More information about Thousand Cankers Disease and forest health threats in Tennessee can be found at For more information about other programs and services of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture visit .

Press Releases

State Releases Predatory Beetles in State Forest to Defend Hemlocks from Pests

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture; December 5, 2012: 

NASHVILLE – Predatory beetles that feed on hemlock woolly adelgids (HWA), an invasive pest killing swaths of hemlock trees from eastern Tennessee to the Cumberland Mountains, were released Tuesday at Martha Sundquist State Forest in Cocke County. The release was an effort by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture Division of Forestry (TDF) to protect young eastern hemlock seedlings from the invasive exotic pest, which is responsible for killing many, if not most, of the mature hemlocks in the state forest.

“Martha Sundquist State Forest is a good site for these beetles to be released because there is a healthy population of HWA to sustain them,” said Douglas Godbee, TDF Forest Health Forester. “We will monitor these beetles over the next couple of years in hopes that they will reproduce, become an established population, and continue to prey on HWA in order to eventually control the HWA population.”

Native to Asia, the hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae) is a small, aphid-like insect that threatens the health and sustainability of eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) and Carolina hemlock (Tsuga caroliniana) in the Eastern United States. It feeds at the base of the needles and can quickly populate all needles of a tree, sucking the sap and ultimately causing mortality within 3 to 10 years of infestation. The potential ecological impacts of this exotic pest are comparable to that of Dutch elm disease and chestnut blight. HWA was first reported in the U.S. in 1951 near Richmond, Va., and has since spread to 17 states, from Maine to Georgia.

The predatory beetles, Laricobius nigrinus, are especially good at controlling HWA because its lifecycle syncs with HWA’s lifecycle, as the larvae feed exclusively on HWA eggs and can only complete their development on HWA eggs. They were reared by the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture at the Lindsay Young Beneficial Insects Laboratory.

Since its detection in Tennessee in 2002, HWA has spread to 35 counties in East Tennessee and the Cumberland Plateau. On average, HWA has been spreading from east to west at roughly 15 to 20 miles per year. It is estimated to have been in Martha Sundquist State Forest since 2005.

“Martha Sundquist State Forest has a healthy population of younger hemlock trees but if left untreated, these trees will eventually become infested and die,” said Godbee.

HWA is spreading rapidly by storm winds and migratory birds, as well as “hitchhiking” on mammals and humans. Infested nursery stock can also transport the insect into new areas. Hemlock is not a highly valued timber species but provides invaluable ecological benefits to the forest such as habitat, stream temperature regulation, and stream bank stability. Loss of these benefits not only disrupts the delicate natural systems in the forest but also affect aesthetic and recreational benefits.

Agencies across Tennessee have joined together in the fight against the hemlock woolly adelgid and formed The Tennessee Hemlock Conservation Partnership. The group works to track the rate of spread of HWA across the state, collaborate on HWA treatment projects on public land, and educate the public about HWA. More information can be found at or contact the Division of Forestry, Forest Health at 615-837-5432.


Corn Prices Weigh on TN Livestock Farmers

While grain producers in Tennessee are having a bumper year, those same market forces are making feed more expensive for cattle and poultry farmers, the state’s top Agriculture official said.

“Various droughts around the world have reduced our inventories to the point that prices are extremely good for the grain farmers. We went through somewhat of a drought this year, but actually recovered with a decent crop in a lot of cases,” Agriculture Commissioner Julius Johnson said during a state budget hearing earlier this month.

“And then in a lot of cases, some farmers around Weakley County along the state line actually lost 100 percent of their corn crop, but came back with soybeans and so forth.”

Julius JohnsonJulius Johnson

Johnson continued: “If you’re feeding feed, this is where you get hit. And so the poultry industry in the state is being hit hard, livestock feeders and so forth, but a lot of the livestock prices have been strong to overcome some of that.”

Johnson is requesting $68.2 million in state funding for the Department of Agriculture for the next fiscal year, holding near steady with the amount the agency received this year and up about 5 percent from the $65 million state budget for fiscal year 2012.

The department’s purview includes food safety, agribusiness, conservation and wildfire prevention.

To view other state budget hearings, click here.

Press Releases

State to Deploy Oral Rabies Vaccines for Wild Raccoons Along Eastern Border

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Health; September 25, 2012: 

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Department of Health is working with the United States Department of Agriculture to prevent the spread of rabies by distributing oral rabies vaccine for wild raccoons along Tennessee’s borders with Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia. The annual baiting program administered by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Wildlife Services, will begin in Tennessee on October 2, 2012.

“Control of raccoon rabies is a vital aspect of protecting public health in Tennessee,” said Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “We’re pleased to be part of this important and effective program to reduce rabies in wildlife, which helps prevent transmission to people, pets and livestock.”

Public health workers will distribute vaccine packets placed inside fishmeal blocks or coated with fishmeal as bait throughout a 15-county area in Tennessee to create a barrier against westward spread of the raccoon-adapted strain of rabies virus. The barrier varies from 30 to 60 miles wide and covers approximately 3,400 square miles, running along the Virginia/North Carolina border in northeast Tennessee to the Georgia border in southeast Tennessee near Chattanooga. The vaccine packets will be distributed by hand from vehicles in urban and suburban areas and dropped from specially equipped airplanes in rural areas.

The oral rabies vaccine will be distributed on the following schedule:

  • October 2 -12: Carter, Cocke, Greene, Hamblen, Hawkins, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington Counties
  • October 7-16: Bradley, Hamilton, Marion, McMinn, Meigs, Monroe and Polk Counties

“Rabies is most common in wild animals in Tennessee, and is a threat to humans and domestic animals that come into contact with wildlife,” said L. Rand Carpenter, DVM, state public health veterinarian. “It’s important for pet owners to make sure rabies vaccinations are current for their dogs and cats to ensure their health and safety, and help provide a barrier between rabies in wild animals and humans. It is also extremely important that people don’t transport raccoons from one area of the state to another.”

Rabies, once disease develops, is almost universally fatal. However, it is completely preventable if vaccine is provided soon after exposure.

This is the eleventh year Tennessee has participated in baiting with rabies vaccine to slow and possibly halt the spread of raccoon rabies. Two raccoons have been diagnosed with rabies in the eastern part of Tennessee so far this year. Since raccoon rabies was first detected in Tennessee in 2003, the disease has not spread as rapidly here as has been documented in other areas of the United States.

Although the vaccine products are safe, the USDA Wildlife Services program has issued these precautions:

  • If you or your pet finds a baited vaccine packet, confine your pet and look for other baits in the area. Wear gloves or use a towel and toss baits into a wooded or fencerow area. These baits should be removed from where your pet could easily eat them. Eating these baits won’t harm your pet, but consuming several baits might upset your pet’s stomach.
  • Don’t try to remove an oral rabies vaccine packet from your pet’s mouth, as you could be bitten.
  • Wear gloves or use a towel when you pick up bait. While there is no harm in touching undamaged baits, they have a strong fishmeal smell. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water if there is any chance the vaccine packet has been ruptured.
  • Instruct children to leave baits alone.
  • A warning label on each bait advises people not to touch the bait, and contains the rabies information line telephone number.

For additional information on rabies prevention or the oral rabies vaccine program, call the USDA Wildlife Services toll-free rabies line at 1-866-487-3297 or the Tennessee Department of Health at 1-615-741-7247. You may also find rabies information on the TDH website at

The Tennessee Department of Health urges individuals to enjoy wild animals such as raccoons, skunks, foxes and bats from a distance and keep pets up-to-date on rabies vaccination to help prevent exposure to animals that can carry rabies. The Centers for Disease Control and prevention has a website to help educate children about rabies. Visit the site at

Press Releases

Ag Dept. Hosting Rural Economic Development ‘Listening Sessions’

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture; April 5, 2012:

Focus on Farm and Forest Issues, Rural Development Opportunities –

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Department of Agriculture is hosting a series of listening sessions across the state in April and May for farmers, forest landowners and agribusinesses. The purpose of the meetings is to hear stakeholder concerns about current issues and to explore opportunities for developing our rural economy and increasing farm and forest income.

“We want to be available to our producers, landowners and agribusinesses to hear their concerns and to get their input on how to enhance our rural communities and economy,” Agriculture Commissioner Julius Johnson said. “This is also about ongoing efforts to look at how we, as an agency, can provide better service and be more responsive to challenges and opportunities.

“Agriculture and forestry are growing businesses in Tennessee. We must find the best ways to maintain and expand infrastructure while encouraging long-term profitability.”

A total of five listening sessions are scheduled with two being devoted specifically to discussing forestry issues as follows:

Agriculture Listening Sessions

April 19 at 10 a.m. EDT – Bradley Co., Tri-State Exhibition Center, I-75 Exit 20

April 26 at 7 p.m. CDT – Weakley Co., Moore Farms, 2887 Paris Hwy. 54, Dresden

May 1 at 7 p.m. CDT – Coffee Co., Farm Bureau Insurance, 225 E. Main St., Manchester

Forestry Listening Sessions

May 3 at 7 p.m. CDT – Lawrence Co., Columbia State Community College Conference Room, 1620 Springer Rd., Lawrenceburg

May 15 at 7 p.m. CDT – Cumberland Co., Cumberland Co. Fairgrounds Multi-Purpose Room, 1398 Livingston Rd., Crossville

The agenda for the sessions include remarks by Commissioner Johnson and an overview of the Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program and the recently formed Agriculture and Forestry Economic Development Task Force. There will also be time for open discussion by participants.

More listening sessions will be planned for the fall to include a focus on other industry sectors. For more information about the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, visit