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Hooray for T(hAy)EP

For the 15th year, the Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program is providing the state’s farmers with cost-share funds for approved purchases inclu
Story by: Sarah Geyer 1/27/2020

 

As approval letters from Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program are arriving in mailboxes across the state, many farmers like Stratton Bone, a cow/calf producer and former state legislator from Lebanon, are planning to purchase hay equipment through TAEP for the first time since the program was established in 2005. The long-time customer of Wilson Farmers Cooperative plans to buy a baler this year and has purchased genetics, a sprayer, gates, and hay rings with cost-share funds since 2010.
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December isn’t the only month when a trip to the mailbox is exciting. January and February also bring good news, at least for many of the state’s farmers. That’s when reimbursement packets arrive from the Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program (TAEP).

This year brings even more excitement for livestock producers like Stratton Bone, who runs a cow/calf operation in Lebanon. For the first time since the program began in 2005, cost-share funds are available for hay equipment and cattle herd health.

According to Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Hatcher, D.V.M., the Tennessee Department of Agriculture added these two programs to TAEP as part of a continued effort to better assist the state’s producers in improving, expanding, and diversifying their operations in areas like livestock genetics and equipment, herd health, hay equipment, and feed and grain storage.

Timing for the hay equipment program couldn’t have been better, says Stratton, a third-generation Wilson County farmer and former state legislator.

“I’ve been using the same baler for about 10 years,” says the long-time Wilson Farmers Cooperative member. “When it started breaking down a lot last year, I knew I had to get another one. Since [TAEP] is now in the [hay equipment] game, I thought, ‘why not apply?’”

Evidently, many of the state’s farmers agreed with Stratton’s thinking. The state received almost 1,500 cost-share applications for hay equipment. The total number of TAEP applications reached more than 6,000, setting a record for the popular program.

TDA urges approved producers to begin making purchasing decision as soon as possible, especially those buying hay and livestock equipment. The deadline to request reimbursement for these two programs is April 1. Reimbursement requests for TAEP’s other programs are due by Aug. 1.

“The Co-op is ready to assist farmers in making the best buying decisions for their operations,” says Sam Stephenson, manager of Tennessee Farmers Cooperative’s Hardware Department. “Our customers can depend on us throughout the process, from expert advice on item choice to

outstanding service with delivery and installation.”

A handy tool for both customers and Co-op employees is TFC’s TAEP-focused website, www.ourcooptaep.com, which features a “catalog” of TAEP-approved products available through Co-op. The extensive selection includes hay mowers, tedders, rakes, bunk feeders, chutes, feed bins, feeders, gates, guidance systems, handling equipment, head gates, mineral feeders, panels, scales, sprayers, spreaders, sweep systems, and working products from a variety of manufacturers. The site also includes the addresses of participating Co-op stores, access to a Co-op customer service representative, and information and tips about TAEP including the reimbursement processes.

“Our customers often comment on how grateful they are for the state’s support of farming through this program,” says Sam Stephenson. “We’re proud that they turn to us for many of their purchases each year.”

As for Stratton, he may be on the approval end of TAEP these days; 15 years ago, however, he played a pivotal role in the creation of the program.

It began when he was elected to the

Tennessee House of Representatives in 1997. He held that position until 2010, but early in his tenure, Stratton began serving on the agriculture committee. That’s where a plan to help the state’s farmers improve their operations was developed.

“In the late [19]90s, Tennessee didn’t have the best reputation for quality cattle production,” says Stratton. “[The ag committee] felt that genetics would bring the quickest improvement, and our original goal was to create a program that would take money out of the equation as much as possible, allowing the producer to buy the bull he needed instead of the one he could afford.”

Over the next few years, committee members refined their ideas, and in 2005, they decided the timing was right for their proposal. Stratton, the committee chairman, set up a meeting with Gov. Phil Bredesen and TDA Commissioner Ken Givens, where he presented the idea of a cost-share program for Tennessee farmers. After the meeting, the governor decided to set aside $5 million for a one-year program, raising the allotment to $6 million the following year.

“[TAEP] helped improve the state’s overall herd quality; there’s no doubt about that,” says Stratton. “When the program expanded to hay barns and livestock equipment, the funds not only benefitted farmers but local businesses, too. I know $6 million is a lot of money, but it just wasn’t enough to fund the growing number of applications.”

The ag committee was determined to find more money for their program, and in 2007, an opportunity landed in the members’ laps.

“The governor came out with a program where he wanted to raise the tax on cigarettes to fund an educational program,” says Stratton. “When the legislation was put together, it was sent to the agriculture committee, of all places. As the committee chair, I had to put the bill on notice for it to be heard.”

Stratton soon received a phone call from Commissioner Givens asking why the bill was still in committee.

“I told him something like we were focusing on other things,” Stratton says. “Actually all I was doing was stalling for time while we tried to figure how we could get some of that tax money for our program. Givens, sensing what we were up to, shared with me that we were slated to get $11 million.  I said, ‘That’s great, but that’s not enough money to do what we need to do across the state. And I want the money to be reoccurring every year.’”

Stratton says that Givens took a long pause before responding.

“He said to me, ‘I don’t think you have a chance in the world of getting this done, but I like the way you think,’” says Stratton. “I said, ‘Well, we’re going to try.’ On the day the bill was to be presented, I excused myself as the chair and made the amendment. We not only asked for a reoccurring $21 million but also to be the first funded each year. That’s how TAEP got its start.”

Since its inception, the program has awarded more than $185 million in cost-share funds, allowing many of the state’s farmers to maximize farm profits, adapt to changing markets, improve operation safety, increase farm efficiency, and make a positive economic impact in their communities. In fact, each TAEP dollar a farmer receives generates $6.09 for the local economy.

“TAEP is a result of teamwork from Gov. Bredesen, Commissioner Givens, and myself along with the ag committee,” says Stratton. “My hope is that future governors and administrators will continue the positive influence or this program, not only for farmers but also for the many businesses it impacts.”

 
 
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