Tennessee Department of Agriculture provides aid to protect food supply chain

Posted at 9:10 PM, Aug 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-18 22:10:13-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — After COVID-19 caused distress to the food supply chain in Tennessee, the state Department of Agriculture is offering farmers $50 million in grants to cover lost costs.

In March and April, the state's farmers, especially meat producers, saw increasingly high demand for product as restaurants were closing. Farmers had to switch their distribution method and many turned to farmers markets to sell their products.

According to Keith Harrison, Assistant Commissioner for Business Development at TN Dept. of Ag., it had a large impact on not only farmers, but foresters as well.

"Exporting has really taken a hit. We haven't been able to go out and seek those markets, go to other countries, go to trade shows, go to trade events," said Harrison. "Folk trying to export logs and such have really suffered under this pandemic. But, we're working with those folks. We're trying to get them to apply for these funds."

The new processes cost farmers money and left some dealing with losses, even as grocery stores struggled to keep products on the shelves.

"They had to make changes and they had to put measures in place to protect their vendors, their employees as well as their customers. And these are some funds to help reimburse them if they haven't already received reimbursement from other programs to help offset the cost of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic," he said.

The grant money is from a COVID relief pool of more than $7 billion being spread through the state. The money has to be used by the end of the year.

The Department of Agriculture is currently collecting applications for the grant money. The application period goes until the end of August. Then, for the next two weeks the department will have a review period. Harrison said they're prioritizing small businesses over major corporations.

Agriculture is one of the state's leading industries. Harrison said he hopes to use all $50 million in grants, and potentially get more funding.