NASHVILLE — Tennessee Agriculture Commissioner Julius Johnson is reminding the state's farmers to maintain their eligibility for some state cost-sharing grants by taking advantage of new continuing education opportunities offered by the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture's Extension program.
"Agricultural leaders recently unveiled a strategic plan to grow and develop our industry over the next decade," Johnson said in a news release. "Education and research were recognized as key components for helping us achieve our goals, and these continuing education opportunities will be important for producers to maximize efficiency in their operations and to increase farm profitability."
Beginning in 2015, producers wanting to qualify for 50 percent cost share funding through the Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program may need to participate in UT advanced continuing education opportunities by certain program reimbursement deadlines.
The TAEP, which is funded to the tune of $21 million a year from cigarette sales taxes, provides grants to farmers in areas ranging from livestock equipment to grain storage, said department spokesman Tom Womack.
The goal is improving agricultural production and farmers' income, and Womack said it's working well. The department points to a UT study which shows that for every TAEP dollar invested, nearly $4 is generated in additional economic activity in local communities.
Agriculture grants range from 35 percent to 50 percent of improvements that qualify. The 50 percent grants require participating in the continuing education programs. The 35 percent grants have no such requirements.
Grants can range as high as $15,000 in some areas of production.
"From the very beginning of the program, we felt very strongly there needed to be some kind of educational requirement for farmers to get additional funding," Womack said.
Officials say in some cases they're giving producers nearly two years notice to complete the new continuing education programs.
For the 2014 grant application period, any master producer certificates received prior to 2015 will still qualify for 50 percent cost share.
A schedule outlining current certification expiration dates and renewal deadlines by program can be found at www.tn.gov/taep undermaster certification information in the TAEP News section. UT Extension class offerings for 2014 are posted at utextension.tennessee.edu.
Womack said UT has added new information for classes and has sought to target offerings by state grand division since conditions may vary in a state that is hundreds of miles long.
According to the department, current Tennessee quality milk certificates expire May 1, 2015, so all dairy producers wishing to qualify for TAEP funds in 2015 will need to become certified as a master dairy producer before Dec. 1, 2015.
Once all current certificates expire, producers will need to participate in continuing education programs every three years with the exception of dairy, which is an annual certification based on fewer class hours each year. Applications for 2014 TAEP cost share programs are expected to be available in April.