But unlike most of the crowd, Haslam doesn’t make his living in cornfields and livestock markets. So rather than give a speech, the governor said he visited East Tennessee to listen to his constituents’ concerns about the agriculture industry.
“I think there is a little connection, if the governor will allow me, between what we as farmers do and what he does,” said Farm Bureau President Jeff Aiken, who joined Haslam for the four-stop tour to East Tennessee farms and agribusiness locations.
“We have a passion for producing crops and livestock. He has a passion for the state of Tennessee. You guys have, I think, the strongest work ethic of anybody in the state. The governor goes tirelessly day and night representing our state and serving the citizens of our state in a remarkable matter.”
From the onset of his visit, Haslam took questions and heard concerns from several farmers on improving the industry, including expanding education, eliminating the estate tax and the H-2A temporary agriculture worker program.
The first constituent to break the silence asked the governor about the consistency of beef prices.
“I don’t think we’re going to see a world where that fluctuation (in beef prices) goes away,” Haslam answered. “I know that makes it incredibly hard for your all’s business and I’d love to tell you different. If I could be the king instead of the governor, I could make it different, but my sense is the price fluctuations we’ve seen in all different products is probably not going to change.”
Renea Jones-Rogers, owner of Jones & Church Farms in Unicoi, said it was certainly beneficial to share her agricultural concerns with the governor.
“It’s great to know that the governor cares enough about agriculture to come out and listen to our concerns and what could really benefit us,” Jones-Rogers said.
Jones-Rogers asked the governor about rising wages of a federal temporary work visa program and the implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act, which will require most farms be inspected by a governmental agency.
Also in attendance, Tennessee’s Agriculture Commissioner Jai Templeton jumped in for some of the explanations, including Jones-Rogers’ about the Food Safety Modernization Act.
“It will require, in Tennessee, a change in statute that will allow the department to have the inspection program. What we’re hearing from producers is that they would rather have a state inspection program than one ran by the federal government,” Templeton said.
A major concern, shared by most in attendance, was the lack of younger generations being involved in the agriculture industry.
“I’ll tell you one thing we’ve done already that I think helps some. It’s not a big answer,” Haslam said.
“But we did, three years ago, do away with the estate tax, which means when you die, your farm’s not subject to a death tax. One of the thing we were seeing was farms weren’t going from one generation to another because the whole family’s asset was in that farm. Sometimes, (the families) would have to sell the farm to pay the tax.”
Haslam also explained the need for the IMPROVE Act to boost road construction and how the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act will expand internet access to rural sections of the state.
By the end of the 45-minute informal talk, Haslam’s knowledge of local agriculture issues was certainly supplemented, but so was his appearance.
Before making his way to the Grainger County Tomato Festival, the governor made sure to purchase one of the Washington County Farmers Co-Op’s signature red hats, worn by many of those in attendance, to take back to Nashville.
Email Zach Vance at [email protected] Follow Zach Vance on Twitter at @ZachVanceJCP. Like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/ZachVanceJCP.