UT dairy farm in jeopardy

Friday, February 13, 2009

State budget cuts and related decisions that haven't been made, or announced yet, place the University of Tennessee Dairy Research and Education Center on New Lake Road in jeopardy.

One alternative, among many, is to move the Jersey milk cow herd from Lewisburg to Spring Hill where the university has a herd of Holstein milk cows, according to Dr. Dennis Onks, the director here and in Spring Hill.

Strongly opposing that is Marshall County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett who says Onks is the acting superintendent here since Henry Dowlen retired as superintendent.
Moving the dairy herd will eliminate the revenue stream that supports the research and training facility that has historical significance to Marshall County, Liggett said.

"They sell the milk from the cows," Liggett said.

Onks acknowledges that "The mayor is very passionate" about keeping the herd here, but Onks contends that the prospect of moving the herd is "very low."

Many plans have been forwarded on how to reduce state spending, Onks said.

"But no decision has been made and other items are being discussed along with this one," Onks said.

"That's good," Liggett said about no decision yet.

It gives him time to mount a campaign to preserve the farm, the mayor said.

One step is to get a resolution passed by the Marshall County Commission when it meets on Feb. 23.

Commissioner Tony White, proprietor of Overland Farm on Old Highway 99 west of Chapel Hill, will sponsor the resolution.

White and Liggett spoke by conference call recently with Dr. William "Bill" Brown, dean of the Tennessee Agriculture Experiment Stations, headquartered in Knoxville.

Brown told them what he might have to do, White said.

"It's been kind of surfacing and we've figured that it's going to happen," White said. "We don't want it to."

If the Jersey milk cows are moved to Spring Hill, there's a possibility that the heifers and the genetic base will remain at the station on New Lake Road, White said.

While that's not closure, it's not like agricultural stations haven't been closed before.

One was closed at U-T Martin, Onks said. When that happened, the mayor of Weakley County was just as passionate about it as Liggett is now for maintaining the facility here.

White said a dairy farm at Knoxville was closed. It was to be replaced with another out of the city, but that's not been completed, yet.

White and Liggett argue that moving the Holstein cows to Lewisburg from Spring Hill makes more sense because of the value of the land near the GM plant.

"It's sitting right at Saturn's back door," White said, "and it's near all the new development."

Spring Hill has been recognized as a rapidly-growing municipality.

Onks said there are eight agriculture centers in Tennessee and they're all being evaluated because of financial constraints facing the state budget.

State budget cuts would take effect in July when the next fiscal year starts. Budget hearings have been conducted. Gov. Phil Bredesen has delivered his State of the State address, but he refrained from speaking about the budget. He's waiting to see what federal money might be available for Tennessee.