As the world’s population increases, the demand for food will rise, which means agriculture production will become even more important.
Since about 25 percent of Tennessee’s total agricultural production is exported to other countries, Commissioner of Agriculture Julius Johnson said the state has to increase its agriculture production over the next several decades.
Johnson believes Washington County will play an important part in that mission.
“There is a lot of potential in this county. You have a sound base and we want to do whatever we can to grow that, because in 2050 we’ve got to double farm income in this country and around the world. It’s going to take everybody applying every resource we can to feed the world in 2050,” Johnson said during a visit in Washington County on Wednesday.
Johnson met with local leaders and farmers while he toured the area, including a stop at the proposed site of the new Johnson City Farmers Market, Second Harvest Food Bank and area farms.
The visit was orchestrated by the Chamber of Commerce and Washington County Economic Development Council.
While visiting Keith Toth’s 97-acre farm in Jonesborough, Johnson stressed the importance agriculture plays in the total state economy, which is about 15 percent.
“We think it’s very important. We have a lot of potential in our beef cattle herds in the state, in our grain production and so forth. We’re very concerned about the loss of dairy farms in the state. If we’re going to feed this population in 2050, we’ve got to gear up and really crank up this (agriculture) production machine that we have in this country and be prepared to feed the population,” he said.
Toth, who farms close to 600 acres in the county, has been farming all his life.
“Agriculture made this county to start out with many years ago. Agriculture is huge in this county — more than it gets credited for,” he said.
At Toth’s farm, he focuses mainly on beef cattle, hay, corn and pumpkins.
The Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program, a cost-sharing program designed to help farmers make strategic, long-term investments to increase farm efficiency and profitability, has helped Toth build his farm.
“It helps you afford a lot of stuff, because everything costs so much,” he said.
Johnson said farmers put up about 50 to 75 percent of the cost through the program and the state matches about 30 to 50 percent.
Since the program began, Johnson said farms across the state have invested more than $100 million in the future of their farms, with the state sharing about $100 million with them.
Washington County’s beef cattle population has always been one of the leaders in the state, Johnson said. The area still has some good tobacco producers and soybeans have become one of the top crops for the area and the state.
One of the issues farmers like Toth are concerned about is the effect of urbanization on the county’s farmland.
That’s a concern the Department of Agriculture shares, but Johnson said he believes the county will continue to be a strong agricultural area.
“I think the stronger days are yet to come for agriculture because of the higher demand for food and a higher-protein diet and the drought situations in certain parts of the world are also causing demand to be strong too,” he said.