From monitoring the threat of fire ants or wild hogs to ensuring the health of nursery stock or livestock, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture Regulatory Services Division works diligently to ensure the quality of the state’s agriculture products.
“There’s a wide range of things we do, and we have a laboratory that supports all those areas,” says Jimmy Hopper, assistant commissioner for Regulatory Services.
Among the division’s responsibilities are food, drugs and dairy, weights and measures, petroleum quality, feed, seed and fertilizers, grain dealers and warehouses, pesticides, and plant and animal health.
In 2012, for instance, the TDA placed restrictions on the transport of wild-appearing hogs in Tennessee. The increase in the number of wild hogs has become a significant issue, since they can cause significant damage to land.
“We put transportation restrictions on them because they’re destructive and capable of spreading diseases to our livestock as well as other wildlife,” Hopper says.
Fire ants in the southern part of the state are also closely monitored by inspectors from Regulatory Services. There is a federal quarantine on fire ants for all land basically south of Interstate 40 through Tennessee. That means any plant or soil material produced in that section must be inspected and shown to be free of or treated for fire ants before shipping. The same is true for all other pests and diseases.
“We enter into agreements with nurseries and greenhouses that they will record what treatments they put on the plants before they’re shipped, and that appropriate documentation accompanies those,” Hopper says.
Livestock health is also critical to the function of Regulatory Services. Dr. Charles Hatcher, state veterinarian, is responsible for ensuring the protection of Tennessee livestock.
“We’re concerned about the spread of animal disease,” Hatcher says. “We want to keep it out of the state, and we’re responsible not to ship anything that is diseased to other states.”
In the equine industry, inspectors are especially mindful of Coggins test requirements for horses. Coggins, or equine infectious anemia, is a viral disease than can cause horses to become very lethargic. It is highly contagious and can be fatal.
The TDA also has an agriculture crime unit that enforces state laws relating to the import of animals and occasionally handles livestock theft. The unit is mostly charged with investigating wildfire arson.