Bredesen hears Jersey herd advocates

Friday, March 20, 2009

Gov. Phil Bredesen has faced budget cuts that appear to be like a proposal to move the state Jersey milk cow herd from Lewisburg to Spring Hill, and in that other situation, he over-ruled the idea.

That's Marshall County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett's explanation after he and a delegation to "Save the Cows" met with the governor on Wednesday afternoon on Capitol Hill in Nashville. Liggett explained it as follows after the meeting.

The proposal to move the cows "sounds like a situation he had when he was mayor of Nashville. They told him the budget was tight. He requested budget cuts and the Metro Police cut the school safety crossing guards. When he saw what they had done, he had to review the budget again to see what they had done and try to put the crossing guards back in the budget," Liggett said.

"In other words," the county mayor concluded, "leaving the Jersey cows in Lewisburg is probably something that we should leave in the budget.

"I thought that was a neat comparison and it indicates that this might be a unique exception," Liggett said. "He was unaware of the situation" thats arose from a budget reduction plan offered by the University of Tennessee.

An official comment from the governor's office was issued by Bredesen's press secretary, Lydia Lenker, who said, "Gov. Bredesen listened to everyone's thoughts and concerns at today's meeting. With that input, he'll now look into the matter."

Liggett said, "We are on his radar."

The financial impact on Marshall County was one of the important points made during the half-hour discussion with Bredesen, according to County Commissioner Tony White, a dairy farmer who's on the County Commission's Agriculture Committee.

"It's about $1 million a year," White said.

For every dollar a dairyman spends, it's multiplied by two, he said of an economist's rule of thumb when calculating economic impact. The same measure is used in Murfreesboro to estimate the financial impact on that city's economy by the annual high school basketball tournaments.

UT's dairy experiment station spends about $800,00 to $1 million annually, White said.

Liggett said, "We did remind him that the station has already survived the Great Depression, so it's already been through what it's going through now." The experiment station was established bu the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1929.

White reported that state Sen. Bill Ketron, who obtained the appointment with Bredesen, opened the discussion and introduced the various officials such as Liggett, White, state Sen. Jim Tracy of Shelbyville, state Rep. Eddie Bass who represents Marshall County, and former experiment station superintendent Henry Dowlen.

"We got a favorable response, although we got no commitment," Dowlen said. "We made the governor aware of the situation. He listened carefully."

Dowlen reported Tracy advised the county delegation that there "were things that are still to be done" to secure the state dairy operation here.

White acknowledged the point: "It will get down to the final count," an apparent reference to lawmakers' votes on the state's annual budget.

State Rep. Bass is a member of the House Agriculture Committee, White said, adding that the committee can "put some pressure on to get done whatever needs to be done to get this resolved."

Dowlen said, "We had a good audience with the governor."

The former farm superintendent has explained experiments at the station have brought about procedures that have increased the shelf life of milk for consumers, and increased productivity during a cow's first lactation.

Liggett, who's been recognized by UT officials as being a "passionate" advocate for the dairy cows and the experiment station, wore a "Save the Cows" T-shirt over his dress shirt and neck tie under his suit jacket, and he delivered a similar T-shirt to the governor.

"And we carried letters from the school children of the county," the mayor said of some 1,535 letters written by students, many of which were typed by sixth graders as well as the portfolios made when county school system fourth graders took their field trips to the farm. A number of the photos were included with the letters that were delivered in a black milk jug with the question "Got Milk?" painted on the side.

Ashley Pfenning, a Westhills Elementary School 6th grade student, created the image of a brown Jersey cow from paper and cardboard which was presented to the governor.

As for county officials' next step to prevent the herd's move to Spring Hill, White said they will rely on Rep. Bass and the House Agriculture Committee and then reassess the situation.