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TDA announces first Agriculture Enterprise Fund recipients

AgCentral Farmers Cooperative headlines group
By Glen Liford 3/23/2018


On hand for the presentation of the Agriculture Enterprise Fund grant to AgCentral Farmers Cooperative were, from left, Clint Lewis, AgCentral Greenback store manager; John Forgety, state representative; Brent Best, AgCentral chief operating officer; Commissioner of Economic and Community Development Bob Rolf; Brad Black, secretary, and Steve Harrison, vice president, AgCentral board of directors; Tennessee Commissioner of Agriculture Jai Templeton; Rick Barham, AgCentral dairy specialist; Jonathan Pierce, chairman, AgCentral board of directors; John Walker, AgCentral chief executive officer.
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AgCentral Farmers Cooperative has been named one of the first grant recipients of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s (TDA) Agriculture Enterprise Fund.

The first six recipients were announced at a press conference held on Feb. 5 at the Co-op’s grain facility in Greenback. The first round of grants totaled more than $400,000 of the $1 million set aside for the program.

TDA Commissioner Jai Templeton and Commissioner of Economic Development Bob Rolfe were on hand for the presentation, as well as county and local dignitaries and representatives from each of the grant recipients.

The AEF is a product of Gov. Bill Haslam’s Rural Task Force and reflects the administration’s emphasis on job creation and economic development, say officials.

“The recipients of this first round of funding all show strong impact on local farm income, access to markets, increased capacity, or agricultural innovation,” stressed Commissioner Rolfe as he addressed the crowd.

The grant to AgCentral will be applied toward improvements to the grain facility that recently opened and the Co-op’s feed mill operation at Athens. The cooperative will add a 115,000-bushel bin, providing additional storage capacity for the facility that opened in the fall of 2017. At the feed mill in Athens, the Co-op will add a micro-system, which will provide more efficient blending capability for the addition of feed supplements and products processed through the Greenback facility.

The grain venture will open new markets for corn and soybean growers and the resulting product will, in turn, be used as ingredients in the Co-op’s feed mill operation. The project will impact multiple farmers in the cooperative’s trade area and will increase the quality of the Co-op’s feed, says John Walker, AgCentral Farmers’ chief executive officer.

“We are proud of this facility and appreciate the vision of the Co-op’s management and board of directors and the hard work of the employees of Ag Central Farmer’s Co-op,” said Jonathan Pierce, AgCentral board chairman. “We’re excited that this new facility already needs expanding and very appreciative of this grant that will help us make those improvements.”

In addition to AgCentral, the list of first grant recipients included:

• Three Roots Capital, a Knoxville-based company that is working to grow agricultural business in the rural areas of East Tennessee by providing access to capital and technical assistance. The Three Roots team works one-on-one with agribusiness owners and, so far, has leveraged approximately $400,000 in micro-loaned programs.

• Ag Launch, a Memphis-based non-profit, is assisting agricultural technology startups. With the AEF grant, the venture will be setting up a network of model farms in distressed and at-risk counties across the state. The establishment of model farms will enhance the firm’s existing farmer network creating new opportunities for Tennessee farmers.

• Edgefield Prime Meat Company, a custom farm-to-table meat processor in Dunlap, will use its AEF funds to increase the footprint of its facility, expanding its freezer and storage space. This grant will allow the business to increase the number of animals processed by hiring additional employees, marketing to local farmers, and expanding into new markets.

• Light Hill Meats, another farm-based custom meat processor in McMinnville, will use the grant funds to expand its services, increasing its storage capacity to allow a greater number of animals to be processed each week. This will allow its customers to market directly to consumers and increase farm income from meat producers.

• Seven Springs Farm to Table, is an agribusiness in Maynardville that specializes in retail sales of vegetables, fruits, beef, pork, and other local farm products. Seven Springs will use its grant to build a new onsite commercial kitchen facility to process vine-ripe tomato seconds into salsa. The new salsa will provide a market for an underutilized segment of the farm’s tomato crop and reduce food waste.

“We look forward to seeing an enormous amount of success that comes from these projects and your efforts to help grow Tennessee,” said Commissioner Rolfe. “We’re proud to partner with the Department of Agriculture to award these grants and support the expansion of agribusinesses in rural Tennessee. Agriculture is a critical component to a successful and vibrant Tennessee economy, and these grants will facilitate new job opportunities.”

“These recipients have solid and specific plans to improve agribusiness opportunities and the local economies in their areas,” Commissioner Templeton said. “They are investing in their communities. Grant money is still available, so we encourage all others who are interested in the Agriculture Enterprise Fund to apply.”

Officials stress there is no deadline for applications, but applicants are encouraged to apply early. Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis.

The AEF will award grants to starting or expanding agricultural, food, and forestry businesses; farmers, nonprofits, local governments, and other entities in Tennessee or those whose project will be located in Tennessee. Grant recipients must demonstrate a strong potential impact on local farm income, access to markets, increased capacity, or agricultural innovation, say officials. Priority will be given to businesses located in at-risk counties, distressed counties, and counties adjoining at-risk or distressed counties.

Applicants must be making an investment into the project; AEF funds may not be more than 25 percent of the project’s total budget.

More information can be found at or by contacting Laura Vaught at or 615-927-6290.

Grain facility provides market for local row crop farmers

The AgCentral Farmers Cooperative grain facility at Greenback represents a $4.5 million investment for the benefit of the Co-op’s owner-members.

“We call it the circle of life,” says Brent Best, AgCentral Farmers chief operating officer. “It starts with the farmer and ends with the farmer, and [the Co-op] is in that circle. We buy the grain from the farmers who are buying from us.”

The impetus for the venture that opened for business on October 17, 2017, is that it makes sense to buy local grain when it’s available, says Brent. 

Grain is purchased from local farmers and then processed for use in the Co-op’s feed operation in Athens. Farmers can also bank grain at the facility for use in their own rations. The facility’s dryer and roaster removes moisture from the beans and, because of roasting, increases the feeding value for use in livestock rations.

In addition to the roaster, the location includes two 115,000-bushel bins. A portion of the AEF grant will go toward adding a third one. Corn is stored in one, with soybeans placed in the other. There are four 3,000-bushel hopper bottom wet bins, two 3,000-bushel surge bins — one above the roaster and one above the roller mill — and two 3,000-bushel load out bins.

Additional equipment includes a twin stack roller mill and a grinder, so the Co-op can crack corn, grind corn or beans, or simply load out shelled corn. The venture supplies all AgCentral locations with cracked corn.

“The facility is multifunctional,” says Brent. “We can receive grain shipments at the same time we are drying or roasting beans.”

The Co-op plans to utilize locally grown beans and corn as long as they’re available but recognizes that it may have to supplement with grain from outside sources when demand exceeds supply. AgCentral will use approximately 750,000 bushels of corn and will roast approximately 300,000 bushels of soybeans each year.

“We even see some farmers bringing in grain in smaller one-ton or two-ton trucks,” he says. “Before we opened, they were hiring 18-wheelers to haul for them. Now they’re pulling their own trucks out and doing it themselves.”

The effort goes back to the true purpose of a Co-op, says Brent. The farmers are working together to accomplish more than they could on their own.

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