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Rural Routes

Commissioner's Message: Gov. Haslam Asks Industry to Deliver Plan of Action

This is the season for reflection. In 2012, we celebrated major expansions in the poultry and grain sectors of our economy. Through a series of listening sessions, we met with hundreds farmers and local business and government leaders to learn about challenges and opportunities for the industry.

Farmers experienced another year of weather extremes from a record drought to a favorable fall, with Mississippi River levels continuing to be a major concern. Most recently, Forestry firefighters battled wildfires that burned more than 6,300 acres of forests in November.

While there are some things we can’t control, there are many things we can. Earlier this month, Gov. Haslam spoke to the leadership of the Tennessee Farm Bureau. He challenged them, along with the Department of Agriculture and the UT Institute of Agriculture, to lead in the development of a strategic plan to move Tennessee agriculture and forestry forward.

He asked for “practical, affordable and actionable steps” that we can take to propel the industry into the future and to increase farm income, and he asked for a plan by the end of 2013. As the governor said, we have a chance to shape our own destiny, and I believe we can build upon the strengths of our rural communities to make it happen.

We at the Department of Agriculture look forward to working with all our stakeholders as we step up to the governor’s challenge. In the meantime, we wish for you and yours a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Julius Johnson

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Grain Indemnity Fund to be Reactivated in 2013

As a result of changes to state law, TDA will reactivate a 1 cent per bushel assessment on soybeans and a half cent per bushel assessment on all other grains beginning March 1, 2013. The purpose of the assessment is to increase the balance of the Tennessee Grain Indemnity Fund.

The Tennessee Grain Indemnity Fund was created by state law in 1989 to provide financial protection for grain producers against the failure of grain dealers and warehouses. The law was amended in 2011 to increase the fund’s minimum balance from $3 million to $10 million due to a significant increase in the market value of grains.

"The new provisions of the grain indemnity law places a responsibility on the commissioner of agriculture to reactivate the assessment in order to maintain an adequate fund balance," TDA Commissioner Julius Johnson said. "Given the fund's low balance and today's high value grain market, I'm authorizing the assessment in order to comply with state law and to ensure that Tennessee grain producers are protected."

The law authorizes the commissioner of agriculture to reactivate the assessment once the fund’s balance falls below $3 million. The assessment on all grain will continue until the fund reaches the new $10 million minimum balance.

Tennessee producer organizations sought the changes in the state law due to the higher market prices of grain. All grain producers who participate in the program can file a claim to recover losses in the event of a grain dealer or warehouse failure, depending on circumstances. The new law caps any one individual’s claim to no more than three and one-third percent of the fund balance.

Grain producers can request to opt out and receive a refund within 90 days of an assessment, but they forfeit protection under the program. Producers who previously opted out can be reinstated but must pay back assessments with interest.

The law also requires that all grain storage facilities and grain dealers comply with bonding and insurance requirements. Warehousemen and dealers must be licensed with TDA, and the required surety is based on volume and license classification. TDA monitors highly speculative positioning by handlers, conducts an annual inspection of records and may seize assets of failed handlers and take other actions to protect the interest of producers.

For more information about the Tennessee Grain Indemnity Fund, contact TDA's Regulatory Services Division at 615-837-5150 or visit www.tn.gov/agriculture.

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Dry November, Arson Sparks Numerous Wildfires

Tennessee Department of Agriculture Division of Forestry (TDF) firefighters were busy in November fighting wildfires. Crews in the East Tennessee and Cumberland Districts were especially busy as they responded to 167 fires that burned nearly 10,000 acres. That number represents more than half of the number of acres burned this year statewide (18,935 acres). Fire danger conditions in those districts were exceptionally bad with low relative humidity and gusty winds across much of the region.

It was one of the driest Novembers on record in the region with most areas barely receiving an inch of precipitation for the month. Burn permits were not issued for an extended period of time despite residents' plans for conducting debris burns. TDF staff was appreciative of the public being so understanding with burn permits not issued for a few days around Thanksgiving.

"A denial of a permit is not welcomed when burning is on the schedule, but most citizens realize it is not personal and is for the good of everyone," said Ted Dailey, East Tennessee District Forester. "It may in fact save them from unexpected damages and expense."

On the Short Mountain fire, an exceptionally large fire in Hawkins County, TDF, as well as all Volunteer Fire Departments (VFD) in Hawkins and most, if not all, in Grainger Counties, worked a week or more to ensure public safety. That did not stop them from getting a good taste of Thanksgiving.

"The good people of Hawkins County treated our personnel and all of the VFD folks well since they were tied up on that fire," said Dailey. "Turkey and all the sides were brought to the Incident Command Post so the firefighters didn't miss out. We’re extremely thankful for that. We’re also thankful that no one was seriously injured and no homes were lost."

Much needed rain has since blanketed much of that region. Cooler temperatures have come as well signaling the approaching winter season. This usually allows for wildland firefighters to catch their breath until the next busy period comes again in February/March. A burn permit continues to be required until May 15 to conduct a debris burn. The free permits can be obtained by calling your local forestry office or online for small debris piles at www.burnsafetn.org.

Check out the WBIR-TV newstory about TDF and VFD personnel receiving a Thanksgiving meal.

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Christmas Tree Industry Feels Effects of Summer Drought

If your family Christmas traditions include a trip to a Christmas tree farm, you probably found plenty from which to choose this year. Unfortunately, future supplies may suffer because of the extreme heat and drought this past summer.

Growers without irrigation saw significant losses in seedlings planted over the 2011-12 fall and winter. According to Kyle Holmberg, marketing specialist with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, some growers reported new seedling losses up to 80 percent. Losses of mature trees ran between 10 and 20 percent in areas subjected to significant drought combined with excessive heat.

Since a typical Christmas tree variety takes between six and seven years to reach 6 feet, however, most customers won‘t notice much difference this year. Larger, mature trees can withstand more extreme weather conditions and are ready now for cutting or transplanting.

This season, the only noticeable effect of the summer's drought and heat on farm direct trees may be slightly higher prices for some tree varieties, says Holmberg, since farmers may choose to cut fewer small trees, compensating for the summer's seedling losses. Those smaller trees may be saved to shore up supplies four or five years from now, when the lost seedlings would have matured.

Most losses have been reported in White Pine and Leland Cypress trees, varieties grown primarily in Middle and West Tennessee.

All field grown Christmas tree varieties are a completely renewable, 100 percent biodegradable and recyclable resource which contains no petroleum products and leaves a negligible carbon footprint. While they grow, natural Christmas trees absorb carbon dioxide and other gases and emit fresh oxygen. Christmas trees are often grown on soil that doesn't support other crops, and their root systems serve to stabilize soil, protect area water quality and provide refuge for wildlife. Grown on local farms, one to three new seedlings are planted for every tree harvested to ensure a constant supply.

Natural trees can be brought to area parks after the holidays to be turned into mulch for local trails. Some people also like to place their old trees in their ponds or favorite fishing spots to serve as fish habitats.

Balled and burlapped live trees are replanted once the holidays are over. Buying a live tree from a farm close to its new home is a guarantee that the variety can grow well in that area, and the growers at tree farms will explain how to plant and care for the transplanted tree.

There's still time to get your tree and to support future plantings. Find Tennessee Christmas trees at www.picktnproducts.org.

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Jere Jeter Named New State Forester and Assistant Commissioner

Gov. Bill Haslam and Agriculture Commissioner Julius Johnson recently announced the appointment of veteran Division of Forestry employee Jere Jeter as State Forester and Assistant Commissioner.

Jeter succeeds Steven Scott, who retired earlier this year after serving 10 years in the position.

"Jere has extensive natural resources management experience in both the private and public sectors that will serve our state well as we deal with important forest resource and protection issues, and I'm pleased to join Commissioner Johnson in making this announcement," Haslam said.

As State Forester and Assistant Commissioner, Jeter is responsible for the administration of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture's Division of Forestry, which manages more than 166,000 acres of state-owned forests and has responsibility for wildfire prevention and suppression, reforestation, landowner assistance, forest health, urban forestry and forest inventory.

"I am humbled by and appreciative of the confidence Governor Haslam and Commissioner Johnson have shown in me to lead this important forest resources agency," said Jeter. "Tennesseans are blessed by a great abundance and variety of forest resources we have and it is an honor to lead the effort to protect and wisely manage this resource."

A native of Weakley County, Tenn., Jeter has been with the state Division of Forestry for more than 31 years. He first joined the agency in 1975 as an area forester serving McNairy and Hardeman counties. He also served as a staff forester working with wood-using industries. He has served as assistant state forester for the past 16 years, overseeing operations including equipment, property, budget and personnel management.

Jeter also has experience in the private sector managing operations of a hardwood lumber concentration and drying operation in Camden, Tenn. He has a bachelor's degree in Forestry from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville after studying pre-forestry at the University of Tennessee at Martin.

He and his wife, Maureen, have two children and six grandchildren and reside in Williamson County, Tenn.

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TAEP Now Available Online

The Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program now has a new producer account management system – TAEP Online.

Phase one of TAEP Online allows producers to view and update contact information, check application and reimbursement status, print reimbursement instructions and view TAEP participation history.

In order to access TAEP account information, producers need a TAEP ID number. All producers approved for 2012 should have received instructions by mail on how to access their account information. An instructional video is also available.

Producers who have participated in TAEP programs in the past, but did not receive an approval in 2012 will be mailed their ID number in early 2013.

Beginning with the 2013 application period, producers will be able to apply electronically for cost share funds. But, participation in TAEP Online is not mandatory in order to participate in TAEP Cost Share programs.

Producers with questions can email taep.online@tn.gov.

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HWA-killing Beetles Released at Martha Sundquist State Forest

Predatory beetles that feed on hemlock woolly adelgids (HWA), an invasive pest killing swaths of hemlock trees from eastern Tennessee to the Cumberland Mountains, were released earlier this month at Martha Sundquist State Forest in Cocke County. The release was an effort by TDA's Division of Forestry to protect young eastern hemlock seedlings from the invasive exotic pest, which is responsible for killing many, if not most, of the mature hemlocks in the state forest.

"Martha Sundquist State Forest is a good site for these beetles to be released because there is a healthy population of HWA to sustain them," said Douglas Godbee, TDF Forest Health Forester. "We will monitor these beetles over the next couple of years in hopes that they will reproduce, become an established population, and continue to prey on HWA in order to eventually control the HWA population."

Native to Asia, the hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae) is a small, aphid-like insect that threatens the health and sustainability of eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) and Carolina hemlock (Tsuga caroliniana) in the Eastern United States. It feeds at the base of the needles and can quickly populate all needles of a tree, sucking the sap and ultimately causing mortality within 3 to 10 years of infestation. The potential ecological impacts of this exotic pest are comparable to that of Dutch elm disease and chestnut blight. HWA was first reported in the U.S. in 1951 near Richmond, Va., and has since spread to 17 states, from Maine to Georgia.

The predatory beetles, Laricobius nigrinus, are especially good at controlling HWA because its lifecycle syncs with HWA’s lifecycle, as the larvae feed exclusively on HWA eggs and can only complete their development on HWA eggs. They were reared by the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture at the Lindsay Young Beneficial Insects Laboratory.

Since its detection in Tennessee in 2002, HWA has spread to 35 counties in East Tennessee and the Cumberland Plateau. On average, HWA has been spreading from east to west at roughly 15 to 20 miles per year by storm winds and migratory birds, as well as "hitchhiking" on mammals and humans. Infested nursery stock can also transport the insect into new areas. It is estimated to have been in Martha Sundquist State Forest since 2005. The beetles will also be released in Lone Mountain State Forest in Morgan County where HWA has also been found.

Hemlock is not a highly valued timber species but provides invaluable ecological benefits to the forest such as habitat, stream temperature regulation, and stream bank stability. Loss of these benefits not only disrupts the delicate natural systems in the forest but also affect aesthetic and recreational benefits.

Agencies across Tennessee have joined together in the fight against the hemlock woolly adelgid and formed The Tennessee Hemlock Conservation Partnership. The group works to track the rate of spread of HWA across the state, collaborate on HWA treatment projects on public land, and educate the public about HWA. More information can be found at www.protecttnforests.org or contact the Division of Forestry, Forest Health at 615-837-5432.

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Calendar Items

Jan 9-10 Tennessee Feed and Grain Association Annual Convention, Cool Springs
Jan 13-16 American Farm Bureau Federation Annual Convention, Nashville
Jan 17-19 Tennessee Cattlemen's Association Annual Convention, Murfreesboro
Jan 17-19 Tennessee Association of Fairs Annual Convention, Nashville
Jan 22-23 Tennessee Pork Producers Association Annual Meeting, Murfreesboro
Jan 23-25 Kentucky-Tennessee Society of American Foresters Meeting, Jackson
Jan 24-26 Tennessee Horticulture Expo & Agritourism Conference, Nashville
Jan 29 Tennessee Forestry Commission Meeting, Nashville
Feb 16-23 National FFA Week

Ellington Agricultural Center | 440 Hogan Road | Nashville, TN 37220
www.TN.gov/agriculture