The Tennessee Agriculture and Forestry Economic Development Task Force, a new organization designed to focus on rural economic growth, was created last week, according to Agriculture Commissioner Julius Johnson last week. The interagency group will assist in setting priorities and developing strategies in support of Gov. Bill Haslam's overall focus on rural economic development.
"Agriculture and forestry contribute more than $78 billion to the state's economy. The task force will help us be more efficient and effective in identifying and taking advantage of opportunities within this important sector of our economy," Johnson said. "It will also help us work with rural communities to make economic development happen at the local level and with more impact."
Working closely with the Department of Economic and Community Development , the task force will focus on Tennessee's strengths in the agriculture, forestry, food and other agribusiness sectors of the economy.
"In Gov. Haslam's Jobs4TN economic development plan we identified the agriculture industry as one of our state's biggest economic assets and a key cluster where we hold a unique competitive advantage," Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty said. "Through this new partnership with the Department of Agriculture and other sister agencies, we will be better able to identify agribusiness opportunities and capitalize on them."
The task force consists of forestry, regulatory and marketing officials within TDA, who will work with and coordinate development activities with state and local economic development officials. The task force also includes representatives from the Governor's Office, ECD and the Department of Tourist Development.
Objectives of the task force include helping to identify opportunities in rural economic development, ensuring an exchange of information within and among agencies and coordinating with regional and local economic development partners.
"In addition to increasing jobs in our rural areas, we want to encourage the kind of development that builds greater demand for farm and forest products through value-added opportunities," Johnson said.
Agriculture officials have seen a boom in the number of food manufacturing facilities permitted in recent years. The department currently permits more than 1,200 food manufacturers compared to 683 six years ago. Most recently, TDA officials have assisted with the expansion of the world's largest ice cream manufacturing facility in Covington, Tenn. and a major Chinese food manufacturer in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
In addition to the food sector, the state also continues to see strong growth in the poultry sector with the recent location of a major producer of broilers in northern Middle Tennessee.
Farming occurs on more than 78,000 farms, totaling 10.9 million acres statewide. Agriculture alone accounts for nearly 11% of the state's economic activity and more than 347,000 farm and non-farm jobs. Tennessee is also a leading hardwood state with timber sales totaling nearly $300 million annually.