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$152 million and counting

For the 13th year, the Tennessee Agriculture Enhancement Program is offering to share the cost of operation upgrades and improvements with the st
Story by Sarah Geyer; photos by Sarah Geyer, Glen Liford, and Chris Villines 8/29/2018

 

Quebeck cattle producer Thurman “Cricket” Mason, left, talks about the Co-op Super Heavy Duty gate behind him and other purchases he’s made on the Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program (TAEP) with White County Farmers Cooperative Outside Hardware Sales Specialist Ray Lyons, center, and Tennessee Farmers Cooperative Hardware Specialist Bryan Wrather.
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Since 2005, the state’s farmers have received significant savings — more than $152 million — for upgrades and improvements to their operations thanks to the Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program (TAEP), an annual cost-share fund administered through the Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA).

“TAEP was established to provide cost-share dollars to agricultural producers for the purpose of making long-term investments in Tennessee farms and rural communities,” say TDA officials, adding that since the program’s inception, more than 51,000 producer projects have been funded. “Participation allows producers to maximize farm profits, adapt to changing market situations, improve operation safety, increase farm efficiency, and make a positive economic impact in their communities.”

To be eligible for 2018-2019 allocations, producers must submit applications during a two-week window, Oct. 1-15. Approval notifications are slated for mailboxes in mid-December.

Program purchases can be made starting Oct. 1, 2018, and must be completed by the project’s final reimbursement request deadline identified in this year’s application booklet. Maximum reimbursements range from $2,500 to $15,000, and producers with master producer certifications at the time of application can qualify for a 50-percent cost share on eligible categories instead of the program’s standard 35-percent reimbursement.

Most TAEP categories remain the same as last year except for livestock feed storage, which has been renamed as livestock solutions. This newly renamed category, along with six other categories — genetics, livestock working facility cover, hay storage, grain storage, producer diversification, and poultry grower — require a reimbursement request by Sept. 1, 2019.

Livestock equipment is the only category that requires reimbursement requests by April 1, 2019. This year, the livestock equipment category contains two revisions; wire panels and concrete have been removed from this category, and “holding pen” has been redefined as “permanent working pen.” The permanent working pen can be constructed out of treated lumber, metal guardrail fence, gates, and portable coral panels. Requirement specifications for the permanent working pen, along with the program’s other projects, can be found in the 2018-2019 TAEP application and reimbursement booklet.

Applications are available at all Co-op locations, UT Extension offices, and the TAEP webpage, www.tn.gov/taep. As always, TDA officials encourage applicants to submit their requests early to ensure best chances for approval.

Local Co-ops provide more than a place for farmers to pick up an application; employees are available to assist producers in each step of the process, from application and purchases to installation. The following are four producer profiles of Co-op members who have participated in the state’s ag enhancement program.

The Bobby Darnell Family, Woodlawn

Bobby Darnell, Jr., a fourth-generation Montgomery County farmer, and his wife, Sarah, applied for TAEP’s cost-share fund for the first time last year. The couple has been raising 110 acres of dark-fired tobacco and commercial cattle since they purchased their farm near Clarksville as newlyweds in 2003.

Last year, the couple decided to expand their cattle business into a registered operation that would include cow/calf and bull leasing. But they knew the expansion would require an extensive working system, and with TAEP cost share, they wanted to “do it right.” For the parents of three school-aged children, that meant creating a system that would be safe for kids, horse-friendly, and versatile enough to expand with a growing herd and one day to serve as a location for their own registered cattle sales. The Darnells are raising their 200-head cow/calf herd of commercial and registered Gelbviehs and Balancers, along with hay, on nearly 600 acres.

The members of Montgomery Farmers Cooperative completed their first TAEP application last fall and in early spring began the first phase of their project, gutting an old tobacco barn to provide a cover for the working area. In early March, they turned to Keith Earhart, livestock specialist at Montgomery, for help creating a custom working system.

Keith and Chris Seiber, a livestock and hardware specialist with Tennessee Farmers Cooperative, were able to design, measure, and draw out a plan for the Darnells in just a few hours.

“Within two weeks, Co-op had delivered and helped us install the entire working area,” says Bobby. “In no time we were completing our first AI [artificial insemination].”

The Darnells’ new covered working system includes one bay surrounded by back, side, and catch pens created with 40 Co-op Super Heavy Duty galvanized panels and gates. Since the family uses horses with their herd, all of the gates are 9 feet tall. The system also features a 90-degree W-W open sweep with rolling doors that connects to a Priefert S04 squeeze chute, as well as a palp cage and a scale. The Tru-Test EziWeigh system is portable, which can travel with the Darnell’s children — Bobby III, 13; Jasper, 11; and Britney, 8 — to 4-H cattle shows.

“The biggest thing it’s done for us is that before the cows always took a back burner to the tobacco crop,” says Bobby. “Now, if Sarah sees something wrong when she checks on the cattle, it’s no problem to get them up here with the horses and work them, either by herself or with the kids. It also gives us the option of working them at night when it’s cooler and even during bad weather.”

As livestock and hardware specialists, Keith and Chris have installed many working systems over the years, but the Montgomery Farmers employee says seeing the Darnells benefit as first-time TAEP participants is extra rewarding.

“There are a lot of older farmers I know who have used the ag enhancement funds every year and experienced great cost savings because of it,” he says. “But for these young farmers who had never applied before, it gave them the advantage they needed to grow and to do it the right way.”

Since Bobby earned his Master Beef certification, he received a 50-percent cost-share reimbursement.

“Would I have tackled this project without the TAEP funds? Probably,” says the producer. “You can do anything if you have to, but it wouldn’t have been as nice, no rolling doors. I’d probably have to build most of it in wood, and that would take a while, which would put the business on hold.”

This year, the Darnells are applying for more super heavy gates to replace some older ones surrounding the working area.

“There are so many possibilities included in TAEP, it’s almost like a wish list for us,” says Sarah. “But for now, we’re focused on adding the finishing touches to our working system.”

Thurman “Cricket” Mason, Quebeck

Thurman “Cricket” Mason, an 83-year-old cattle producer, raises a herd of registered Gelbvieh on his 60 acres in White County. The retired Cummings employee, who began raising commercial cattle in 1970 and changed to a registered operation in the early 1990s, has benefited from TAEP cost-share funds nearly every year since the program’s beginnings.

Cricket says the program gives farmers like him “a great way to improve their equipment and genetics.”

“I’m always trying to improve my herd each year,” he explains. “And TAEP has played a big part in me being able to do that.”

Improvement might be an understatement for this producer, who says his better cattle are in the top 2 percent of the breed, and his culls are in the breed’s top 20 percent — statistics he credits to exemplary genetics, bulls, and semen, which he has been able to purchase because of TAEP’s 50-percent cost-share reimbursement.

Through the ag enhancement program, Cricket has purchased three bulls, multiple bull gates, two sheds, two holding pens, and creep feeders.

Since 2015, Cricket has added a working system each year to different areas of his farm, where he runs his 40 head of cattle, including 20 mamas.

“It makes working the cattle a whole lot easier and a whole lot quicker,” he says. “TAEP has allowed me to upgrade to the point that I’m in pretty good shape. This year, I’m applying for another bull.”

As a member of White County Farmers Cooperative, the producer says he depends on Co-op employees and Outside Hardware Sales Specialist Ray Lyons for TAEP advice and installments.

“Cricket’s operation and his dedication to improving his registered herd is well known in the Gelbwieh community,” says Ray. “He doesn’t have to do any advertising. Everything he sells is through word of mouth, and he has a three-year waiting list.”

Mike Henry, Dickson

Mike Henry, who grew up on a small farm in the Pond community, raised tobacco with his wife Teresa and three children until 2003, when the family purchased a 200-acre farm in Dickson.

“I’m very fortunate that my son Josh and his wife Tasha were able to purchase a farm next to mine. Then three years ago, my daughter Jenny and her husband Chris bought the farm across from him,” says Mike, adding that his third child, Jed, lives in Nashville and works as an engineer for Cooper Steel. “Now I have four grandkids — Josh and Jenny each have two. You wouldn’t believe how nice it is to have them that close.”

Together, the family owns 300 acres and raises a commercial black cow/calf operation with a 40-head herd. The Henrys have participated in TAEP nearly every year since the program began in an effort to continually improve and upgrade their operation.

Their first purchase was a hay barn, followed by a W-W sweep tub with alley, a hay shed for additional storage, and a 300-gallon Ag Spray boomless sprayer. Next, Mike focused on making spraying herbicide and spreading fertilizer easier and more efficient through the purchase of a Raven GPS unit.

“The GPS unit has been the biggest, most pleasant surprise for me,” Mike says. “Without the Ag Enhancement Program, I would have never invested in one. That rascal is helpful.”

Additional purchases have included holding pens made of Co-op Super Heavy Duty panels, mineral feeders, and a smaller working system for Josh’s farm.

“I haven’t bought TAEP equipment anywhere but the

Co-op,” says Mike. “ I know there are other vendors that sell the same products as Co-op, but you will have a hard time finding any of them willing to come out and be familiar with your operation and know which one fits best your needs.” 

Because the Henrys planned to buy their working system in sections over several years, they turned to David Daniel at Dickson Farmers Cooperative for a multi-year purchasing plan. The outside sales specialist suggested the Henrys begin with a Priefert S04 squeeze chute and, in the following years, add a sweep, then if desired, a palp cage.  He also suggested the Dickson Farmers members enclose their equipment with Co-op Super Heavy Duty panels, which are built at the TFC Gate Plant in LaVergne and are designed to create a versatile working system.

“There is no doubt TAEP has made our farm safer, and without the expense that a farm our size just couldn’t justify,” says Mike. “It’s not only safer for me, but safe for my family and, just as important, safer for my cows.”

Mike adds that he has also benefited from the Master Beef Producer classes, a TAEP requirement for the 50-percent cost-share option.

“Because of what I purchased through TAEP and the education I’ve received as a part of it, I’m providing not only a safe environment for my grandkids, but they are learning a better way of farming.”

John Ottinger, Poplar Springs

John Ottinger of Greene County once again took advantage of the ag enhancement program this year to improve his beef cattle operation. John, who also works full time as a mail carrier, farms around 400 owned and leased acres, including some of the original farm owned by his grandfather, Drew, and his dad, Wayne. He runs about 90 mama cows, mostly Angus-based commercial cattle, and raises corn and hay.

Due to the fact that the last of his three sons recently left home, John says it has been critical to make adjustments that allow him to work his cattle with little to no additional labor.

Using TAEP funds, John, a Greene Farmers Cooperative member, purchased heavy-duty W-W livestock panels and constructed a holding pen that allows him to work his cattle alone if necessary. He chose the W-W product due to his previous experience with the quality brand, and the fact that the new products interchange effortlessly with his existing equipment. He had two W-W systems already, and the holding pen enhances his efficiency. John relied on the expertise of Greene Farmers Cooperative employees Jason Crawford and Gary Shelton, along with assistance from Gary Satterfield, TFC hardware sales specialist, for the design and installation of the products.

“This is the best money I have ever spent through the ag enhancement program,” says John, noting that finding supplemental labor to help out on the farm can be challenging. “But with this system, I can safely work my cattle by myself.”

John also chose to improve herd quality by using TAEP funds to purchase five heifers with approved genetics.

“I had purchased bulls through the program, but this was the first year I have tried heifers,” he says.

John has been utilizing the TAEP funds since early in the program’s history. Through the years, he has added additional livestock handling equipment, a sprayer, a feed bin, and a hay barn through TAEP.

“It’s a great program,” says John. “It helps your money go further. That’s important for all farmers.”

 
 
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