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The right track

White County livestock producer Vernon Wilson says the Tennessee Ag Enhancement Program is critical for both new and veteran farmers
Story and photos by Mark Johnson 10/2/2021


Now in its 16th season, the Tennessee Ag Enhancement Program (TAEP) continues to improve both crop and livestock farms, like Vernon Wilson's Sparta cow/calf operation. Wilson, a devoted customer of both Ag1 Farmers Co-op and White County Farmers Co-op, has participated in TAEP nearly every year since its launch in 2005.
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When it was launched in 2005, the Tennessee Agriculture Enhancement Program (TAEP) was widely perceived as a tool for making farming more profitable and sustainable while investing in the state’s rural communities. 

Both then and now, that perception was accurate.

According to data from the University of Tennessee Agri-industry Modeling & Analysis Group, every dollar of TAEP funding results in $6.09 spent in local communities. Since its inception, there have been more than 68,000 agricultural projects funded at an investment of better than $207 million.

But while the dollars and cents of TAEP tend to top political talking points, the farm-by-farm human benefits are where the program really shines. TAEP has not only generated more income, but it has also made agriculture significantly safer for the average farmer who, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is around 58 years old. Cattle producers like 71-year-old Vernon Wilson of White County have been able to continue doing what they love with the help of TAEP.

“As I get older, I’d say that safety has become the No. 1 priority for me,” says Wilson, a devoted customer of both Ag1 Farmers Co-op’s Cookeville store and White County Farmers Co-op in Sparta. “I’ve been knocked down and run over — we all go through that as farmers. But as you get older, you don’t heal back as quickly.”

Wilson says he has participated in TAEP almost every year since its launch and has used the program to purchase hay equipment, improve herd genetics, and develop a safe cattle-working system for his herd of registered Angus. He currently runs 160 mama cows and their calves on 400 acres in White and Putnam counties.

“We put up 600 to 700 rolls of hay annually while fall-pasturing as much hay ground as possible,” Wilson says. “So, purchasing the proper hay equipment and storage facilities through TAEP has been critical as well.”

Having taken care of his hay needs, Wilson has directed most of his TAEP funding into herd genetics over the past few years, introducing new bloodlines from Ingram Angus, LLC., based out of Pulaski. 

“That has made a huge difference,” Wilson says. “Out of their cattle, I’ve seen probably a 100-pound gain on calves, and my fertility rate has gone from 82 percent to better than 90 percent. It has really paid off for us.”

To be able to work his cattle safely and with as little stress to the animals as possible, Wilson has also used TAEP funding to purchase and install custom WW systems — including sweep gates, tubs, and panels — along with For-Most 450 squeeze chutes at four different locations in Cookeville and Sparta. Wilson installed all the components with the help of livestock specialists from both Ag1 Co-op and Tennessee Farmers Cooperative (TFC).

“I wouldn’t have any of these facilities were it not for the combination of TAEP funding and the help I’ve gotten from Co-op,” Wilson says. “They’ve been very good to me.”

He adds that as critical as TAEP has been to his operation, he sees it as nearly mandatory for young farmers and ranchers trying to get into the business.

“I honestly don’t know how they could get by without it,” he says. “These young folks need all the help they can get to obtain the necessary equipment, and the beauty of TAEP are the educational requirements that go along with it. Even a guy like me in his 70s — I always learn something new in the Master Beef Producer classes.”

Ag1 Cookeville store manager, Josh Grissom, says Wilson serves as a great mentor and example to the younger farmers in the Cookeville/Sparta community.

“Just to come down here and see what Vernon has put together is valuable to these folks,” says Grissom. “They may not be able to do exactly what he’s done to begin with, but it gives them ideas. ‘Hey, I might be able to do something similar to this and build onto it bit by bit.’”

Wilson adds that he hopes Tennessee lawmakers will continue to enhance the program to benefit up-and-coming agriculturalists.

“TAEP is the best thing to happen to farming in many years, but before long, us older guys will be done,” he points out. “I would challenge the politicians to continue to find additional ways to support the next generation of farming through Ag Enhancement. If we can help the youngsters operate profitably while keeping the older farmers safe, we’ll be on the right track.”

Farmers interested in learning

more about items eligible for TAEP

cost share should visit Co-op’s TAEP-focused website, This website features a catalog of TAEP-approved products available through Co-op. General TAEP information can be found at

Ag Enhancement for 2021-22

• The TAEP application period is Oct. 1-7.

• Approval notifications will be sent

to producers in mid-December.

• Reimbursement packages will be

sent to producers in January 2022.

• Both livestock and hay equipment

reimbursement request deadlines

are April 1, 2022.

• The deadline for genetics

reimbursement requests is

June 1, 2022.

• The deadline for all other program

reimbursement requests is

Aug. 1, 2022.

• This year, there is a new option to

the TAEP for citizens who are new to

farming. Tennessee farmers who are

applying for cost share assistance

for the first time and have been

farming fewer than five years may

be eligible for the Beginning Farmer

option under Application A to

improve their operation. Producers

should use Application A for live

stock equipment, genetics, hay

equipment, herd health, livestock

solutions, permanent working

structures, dairy solutions, and row

crop solutions.

• The popular hay equipment program

is available this year and will

alternate with hay storage as an

eligible program every other year.

• Application B is for farmers with

investments in agritourism, fruits

and vegetables,

honeybees, horticulture,

organics, and value-

added products.

Application C is for

commercial poultry


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