Farmers big and small, we need them all

Did you know agriculture is our county’s biggest business?
The market value of all Lawrence County farm products was $71.1 million in 2017, and we were among the top 10 Tennessee counties in the majority of livestock, poultry, and crop production categories. The numbers are expected to skyrocket with the 2023 Census of Agriculture, but still won’t include the additional millions in economic impact our many ag-related businesses provide.
We all come from farmers; in fact, more and more families in Lawrence County are returning to their agricultural roots with vegetable gardens, bee hives, and chicken coops. My family has a small livestock operation in western Lawrence County, and I’m excited that my son Ben, now a high school sophomore, is interested in farming as a career.
Farmers with operations of every size owe a big thanks to Extension Leader Calvin Bryant and the Agriculture Extension Service for the support and advice they provide. Other programs for the agricultural community, including Soil & Water Conservation and Rural Development, are housed at the local USDA Farm Services Agency.
My wife and I recently attended the Soil & Water Conservation District’s Annual Banquet, with Tennessee Conservation District Soil Health Specialist Jeremiah Durbin as keynote speaker. He talked about regenerative agriculture practices, which are based on principles that apply to life itself.
Regenerative farming minimizes tilling and rotates livestock through subdivided areas of pasture so that vegetation always covers the ground. The soil is fed by a continuous, natural process of plant decay and regrowth to minimize erosion, reduce the use of artificial fertilizers and pesticides, cut costs and increase crop production.
In life, regeneration means to be renewed, especially after being damaged or lost. God made the Earth and its people capable of regeneration produced by rest and restorative work. To rush that process through artificial means – things the world tells us we should or could do – damages us in the end. I believe the hard, honest work of agriculture, whether on many acres or a back yard plot, is a good way to regenerate our spirit.
Support from our state and federal government helps make farming an option for those of us who didn’t inherit a family operation. Our tax dollars return to us in the form of Tennessee Agriculture Enhancement Program (TAEP) grants that are used to assist cattle, dairy, and poultry operations; manage storage of grain and hay; promote agritourism; and support production of fruit, honey, organics and value-added products. New application materials will be available in mid-August.
Lawrence County farmers have received a total of $7,001,683 in support of 2,196 different projects since TAEP started in 2005. Only Warren County, with its nursery industry, has received more.
The new FARM (Forestry, Agriculture, and Rural Markets) cost share program is funded by the federal American Rescue Plan. Projects should expand farm production or storage, or improve transportation systems, all of which are weakness that were revealed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Because Lawrence County is considered at “at-risk,” agriculture, food, and forestry businesses and nonprofit entities can receive 75% reimbursement for a project ranging from $25,000 to $1 million. Applications for round one are due March 31, but rounds two and three will have deadlines of November 2023 and March 2024, respectively. Be aware that reimbursement requires a great deal of documentation, and projects must be completed in 24 months.
I hope you will continue to support Lawrence County farmers by purchasing homegrown vegetables, fruit, and meat. Several local retailers carry locally-grown products. The Loretto Farmer’s Market is gearing up for another season, and a new, larger gazebo on the Lawrenceburg Square will include space for a regular Farmer’s Market. At Plowboy Produce in Ethridge, you can buy large or small lots of crops grown on Lawrence County farms.
Finally, I want to personally thank our agricultural advisers, farmers and ag-related businesses for their positive impact on our economy and way of life.