Tennessee’s ag department isn’t just paying lip service to verification programs and animal identification. The department is putting money where its mouth is and offering programs to help producers get on board.

Dan Bond, Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s Age and Source  program coordinator, says the Tennessee Agriculture Enhancement Program is helping producers to look at the whole package of producing beef and making improvements — from geneticsto animal health to marketing. Plus, they are reaping the economic rewards of these management practices as well as obtaining an additional financial incentive from the state.

For a little more than a year, the state has offered several initiatives to help producers. One is the animal health initiative, and the other is the cattle improvement initiative.

The concept is relatively simple. Producers participate in the program and receive a premium for those cattle marketed, Bond says. TDA will pay producers up to $500 for marketing cattle through USDA-approved, age- and source-verified programs and state-approved preconditioning programs. Producers can receive $5 per head for cattle that are source and age verified and another $5 per head for cattle in a certified preconditioning program, up to 50 head. 

In addition, auction markets receive incentives for having special sales promoting program cattle. The state will pay $5 per head, up to $3,000, to the auction barn participant.

Under the cattle improvement initiative, producers also benefit from genetic and facility cost-share programs. Through this, producers can get 35 to 50 percent cost share to help purchase. For cattle-handling facility improvements, producers can receive 35 percent of the cost.

The state also encourages producers to participate in further educational opportunities, such as the Master Beef Program. There are additional incentives for producers that complete the program; for example, certified producers qualify for the maximum — 50 percent — funding to help purchase bulls through the cattle improvement initiative. This program encourages producers to purchase better genetics to boost their herds’ marketability.

Bond also raises cattle in central Tennessee — normally about 160 head of cows — but that number was reduced this year due to drought in the region. While Bond can’t participate in the state enhancement program since he’s an employee, he does market cattle that are individually identified, source and age verified, and preconditioned. He also participated in the Master Beef Program through Tennessee’s Extension service before it became part of the TDA’s Enhancement Program. He says the educational aspect is extremely valuable, as well as the opportunity to network with other producers in the area.

And all the programs are being well received by producers. The source- and age-verification program had more than 9,000 head of cattle go through last year. He feels that number will continue to increase as word gets out and demand grows for Tennessee cattle coming through these programs. All the programs are process verified and the TDA audits and verifies preconditioning programs.

In order to participate in these programs, producers must:

1. Register their livestock farms, or premises, for the National Animal Identification System.

2. Be certified under the Beef Quality Assurance Program, a two-hour educational course on cattle management and care sponsored by the Tennessee Cattlemen’s Association.

The TDA concept brings together a number of beef organizations and companies to help Tennessee producers improve their cattle herds and their marketing power, Bond points out. For example, the Extension service provides educational programs and the Tennessee Cattlemen’s Association provides BQA training and certification.

“The idea with all these programs is to get producers involved so that they can see the benefits,” Bond says. “And it takes some of the fear and uncertainty out of the industry terms like animal identification, preconditioning and source and age verification.” That’s because producers can see how the programs work while obtaining economic rewards.