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A legen-dairy day on the Hill

Legislators, farmers, and other members of the agricultural community gathered at the Tennessee Capitol to celebrate National Ag Day 2022
Story by Cara Moore Photos by Cara Moore and Claire Hill 4/22/2022

 

This year’s Ag Day on the Hill event spotlighted the dairy industry and featured a milking contest between executive and legislative leadership. Governor Bill Lee, left, and Commissioner of Agriculture Charlie Hatcher were awarded a celebratory milk pail for their winning efforts.
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The highly anticipated Ag Day on the Hill, held March 22, drew hundreds of spectators eager to show their support of Tennessee farmers and foresters during National Agriculture Week. 


The event marked a day of celebration as legislators, state leaders, Tennessee farmers, and youth agricultural organization members gathered to recognize the importance of the industry in our state on National Ag Day. Activities were held between the historic Cordell Hull State Office Building and the Tennessee State Capitol, where livestock pens lined the streets and agricultural industry vendors filled the courtyard. 


“It’s good to be back out and celebrating agriculture,” said Tennessee Department of Agriculture Deputy Commissioner Jeff Aiken, referring to the COVID-related cancellations of the past two years. "I know we are all excited to be here interacting with each other again — it’s something that we have all missed.”


The purpose of the celebration is to showcase the agricultural industry and those involved, as well as to educate state legislators who make the laws. From holding pigs to petting horses, attendees had the opportunity to experience agriculture from a hands-on perspective. 


Governor Bill Lee, along with other influential state leaders, gathered outside the Capitol to share the current state of the industry and to provide a word of encouragement to the next generation of farmers who were in attendance. He also spoke about the commitment of the General Assembly and members of his office in advocating for the ag community and creating an environment in which Tennessee producers can thrive. 


“Agriculture is the largest sector in Tennessee’s economy, and its future lies in the next generation,” said Gov. Lee. “It’s important that we consider the agricultural industry, invest in it, and are mindful of it, because it impacts people’s lives. We are a part of feeding the world.”


The highlight of the day was the milking competition between members of the executive leadership — Gov. Lee and Commissioner of Agriculture Charlie Hatcher — and state legislature leadership — State Senator Frank Nicely and Representative Jeremy Faison. Each team grabbed a milk pail and rolled up their sleeves to see who could collect the most milk from their dairy cow.


After a tense couple of minutes, the executive branch bested the opposition, with 1060 mL of milk versus 870 mL. In honor of winners Lee and Hatcher, the Farm and Forest Families of Tennessee presented a $1,000 check to the Shooting Hunger Backpack Program, which provides meals for hungry kids across the state. 


“It’s not every day that you get to milk a cow outside of the Tennessee State Capitol,” said Gov. Lee. “I’ve enjoyed putting some old skills to use during another legendary Ag Day on the Hill.”


The Holstein and Brown Swiss dairy cows used in the competition were provided by the Johns family of Marshall County. The family’s Lazy J Farm consists of both dairy cows and an Angus cow-calf operation, as well as more than 100 acres that are cut each year for hay. 


“It was very special to get invited to Ag Day on the Hill,” said owner Melissa Johns. “We love promoting our dairy cows any chance we get.”


Melissa’s two sons, Jacob and Joseph, have been involved in 4-H since the fourth grade and actively show their farm’s dairy cows in multiple states. They testified during a session of the House Agriculture Committee (HAC) to the importance of raising awareness of the dairy industry and finding opportunities such as Ag Day on the Hill to promote their family’s business. 


Numerous members of 4-H, FFA, the Tennessee College of Applied Technology at Crump, and the Tennessee Cattlemen’s Association were present at the event to represent the future generation of agricultural leaders. 


Harrison Falcofsky, recently retired 2020-21 Tennessee FFA President, was given the opportunity to address the House Agriculture Committee (HAC) to advocate for youth agricultural leadership organizations. This integration of young leaders into the event’s programming has traditionally been an important focus of Ag Day on the Hill to encourage those who will ultimately help to build the future of agriculture. 


During comments to attendees, Hatcher reported that Tennessee’s agriculture and forestry sectors account for 342,000 jobs in the state and contribute $81 billion to the economy. 


“Because of this, agriculture is often viewed as the backbone of both Tennessee and the U.S.,” Hatcher said. “Although one day is not enough to thank farmers and forestry workers for their dedication in feeding, clothing, and building our world, Ag Day on the Hill still serves as a necessary reminder of the abundance provided by agriculture.”


 
 
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