In a joint effort to rebuild a declining Tennessee beef herd, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture and Tennessee Farmers Cooperative have announced a unique public-private partnership. UTIA will make room at its Dairy AgResearch and Education Center in Lewisburg for 100 beef heifers consigned by farmers from across Tennessee for a development program with the goal of increasing cattle numbers in the state.
Nationally, Tennessee has dropped from ninth in beef cattle production to 13th in the past two years due in part to a decrease in the state’s herd caused by economic and weather-related factors. Currently, the state hosts about 864,000 beef cows. The goal of the new Tennessee Beef Heifer Development Program is to increase that number, which is consistent with the recommendations of the Governor’s Rural Challenge.
Issued in December 2012, the challenge sets a goal of making Tennessee No. 1 in the Southeast in the development of agriculture and forestry, emphasizing efforts to increase farm income and agribusiness investment. With beef producers located in every county in the state, enhancing beef cattle production is a natural priority for the state’s agricultural community, said Agriculture Commissioner Julius Johnson, who offered the department’s full support of the initiative.
“Tennessee has the land capacity to support beef herd expansion and to recapture our share of the U.S. market,” said Johnson. “This project ties in with the recommendations of the Governor’s Rural Challenge to grow our industry and gives producers another tool with which to improve their operation and to maximize profits.”
The most economically straining aspect of beef management is the development of replacement heifers, said UT cattle expert Kevin Thompson, who serves as director of the Middle Tennessee and Dairy AgResearch and Education Centers.
“Replacement heifer development is expensive because of the time and resources it takes to bring a heifer to the point of production — that is, until she produces a marketable calf of her own,” Thompson said, adding that research has shown a positive correlation between proper heifer development and longevity of the animal within the herd. “This program will provide producers with the best management protocols intended to optimize development and increase the heifer’s lifetime productivity. We will be helping to rebuild Tennessee’s cattle herd, improve its quality and increase farm profits over time.”
The UT Dairy AgResearch Center in Lewisburg is perfectly located for the statewide program, said Thompson. With support through a $243,000 Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program grant from TDA and an in-kind contribution from TFC totaling more than $125,000 in supplies, equipment and other services over a five-year period, UTIA will construct or upgrade certain facilities to accommodate 100 privately owned beef heifers consigned for intensive management. Improved protocols for animal production — including nutrition, health, handling and reproductive management — will be developed so they can be replicated by individual producers across the state. After 11 months of intensive management and care at the UT AgResearch center, the heifers will be returned to consigners or offered in a bred heifer replacement sale. UT Extension has also been involved in the program development and will continue to have a leadership role as the program moves forward.
UT is working to identify select producers willing to consign heifers to the pilot project. Construction of required facilities is expected to begin by the end of the year, and the first shipment of heifers should arrive in October 2015. TDA has agreed to offer TAEP scholarships to producers who participate in the pilot project to help defray a portion of their management costs.
With the importance of beef production to Tennessee’s agricultural economy and the Co-op system, this new project makes “perfect sense for the cattlemen of our state,” said Bart Krisle, TFC’s chief executive officer.
“This program fits one of our core objectives of helping our farmer owners increase profitability,” said Krisle. “Helping beef producers find improved methods and compare management practices and results will strengthen their desire to increase herd size. The opportunity to replicate the program in their own operations is the most valuable part of this initiative, and all the equipment, herd health items, feeds and minerals can be sourced from their local Co-ops. This program will have far-reaching benefits, and we are proud to be a part of it.”
UT Institute of Agriculture Chancellor Larry Arrington reiterated the importance of research and extension to the process of economic development.
“Providing real life solutions to production problems is the mission of the UT Institute of Agriculture,” he said. “This new program has the potential to truly grow the state’s beef cattle industry and to have a substantial and lasting impact on the state’s rural economy.
In addition to its AgResearch program, the UT Institute of Agriculture also provides instruction, research and public service through the UT College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, the UT College of Veterinary Medicine and UT Extension offices in every county in the state.