The Agriculture Enterprise Fund (AEF) is an incentive program that offers grants to businesses committed to growing and developing agricultural development in the state of Tennessee. Created to support former Governor Haslam’s priorities of job creation and economic development, these grants are awarded to new and existing agricultural, food or forestry businesses, as well as farmers, nonprofits and other state entities.
In order to qualify for grant money, recipients must demonstrate more than a need for extra cash to benefit their operation. They should be able to show how the grant money will allow them to impact their local community through aspects including job creation, increased capacity or agricultural innovation.
“We’re looking to support operations who are seeking to expand or grow,” Agricultural Advancement coordinator Kyle Hensley says. “We’re specifically focusing on at-risk or distressed counties because we feel like that’s where we can make the strongest impact.”
While grant recipients are not required to live in or adjacent to a distressed county, those who do are given priority.
“If we can support a business in one of those counties that allows them to hire more members of their community or purchase from local producers in the area, that will have a positive impact on their economy,” Hensley says.
Job Creation in Clay County
One of the first recipients of the AEF grant was GF Hardwoods, a family-owned and-operated supplier of kiln-dried and raw hardwood lumber located in Clay County.
Nick Patterson co-owns the company with his wife, April Smith Patterson, and her family. He says the business received $36,000, which was used to replace the valves in their dry kiln and purchase a new forklift to move the lumber from the kilns to storage and then to delivery trucks.
With just over 7,700 residents, the county looks to local businesses for employment opportunities.
Grants like AEF ensure companies like GF Hardwoods will continue to supply them.
“Living in a state that chooses to invest in family-owned agricultural businesses is encouraging,” Patterson says. “It shows that our leadership understands the value of rural communities and what family- owned businesses mean to the state of Tennessee.”
Diversifying Crops in Robertson County
“The AEF grants are helping our farmers grow and promote a diversity of crops, especially in places like Robertson, Montgomery and Cheatham counties,” Cory Winters says.
Owner and operator of Winters Farm, Winters also serves as the secretary and treasurer for Melon Pride, the newly formed cooperative for melon farmers. Based in Robertson County, this organization committed to growing watermelons received a $36,000 AEF grant to help launch their new venture.
Winters says the grant money was used to build a packing line, purchase computers and printers for labeling and tracking, and to buy a machine that scans the melons for sugar-moisture content.
“For years, farmers in our area were dependent on tobacco crops as their primary source of income,” Winters explains. “But grants like this give us the chance to diversify production and not rely on a single crop.”
Growing Grundy County
Bruno Durant is a French farmer who started his Silver Bait Worm Farm in Georgia in 1993 before relocating to Coalmont, Tenn. in 2004. Silver Bait Worm Farm has grown to be one of the top fishing- worm companies in the U.S., producing millions of worms every year. He farms approximately 700 acres of corn to feed his worms, which are grown and processed in a 400,000-square-foot building.
The $50,000 grant he received will allow him to bring three-phase power to his farm, which is necessary if he wants to continue to grow and expand. Unlike single-phase power, which is fine for homes, three-phase power is crucial for industrial operations.
Durant employs seasonal and full-time workers, but these additional funds will enable him to bring even more jobs to Grundy County.
“This grant will allow us to add 80,000 square feet of buildings in 2019 and another 80,000 in 2020,” Durant says. “That alone means we can create another 10 to 15 jobs.”
Investing in the State’s Top Industry
As the largest industry in the state, promoting the growth and development of agriculture is crucial – especially in rural areas.
“We’re passionate about supporting this industry,” Hensley says. “Investing resources into agricultural businesses allows us to support them as they continue to grow and develop.”