FRANKLIN, Tenn. – Bill Haslam, governor of Tennessee, said on Dec. 5 his administration is trying to cut back on the time it takes for poultry farms to get environmental permits, according to The Associated Press. His goal is for the state to strike the "right balance between our stewardship responsibilities and making certain we're providing product and providing jobs," the Republican governor said after a speech to the Farm Bureau.
Julius Johnson, Agriculture Commissioner, said surrounding states are more likely to grant permits for chicken farms and noted that Tennessee's rules are slightly stricter than federal standards.
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation handles issuing animal waste-handling permits, and Johnson said he's been holding discussions with that agency in an attempt to streamline the process. "We're competing with Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Kentucky, who are doing it faster than we are," he added. "Industry is expressing concerns."
Environmental advocates want state officials to carefully consider the negatives of changing standards.
Poultry is Tennessee's third-largest agricultural product, after cattle and soybeans. "Rural Tennessee has been hit hard with the loss of industry, and in the last 10 years [poultry] has been our major growth area in agriculture," Johnson said. "And it's kept a lot of young farmers on the farm that otherwise would have to go to town."
The changes they are seeking have more to do with reducing the time it takes to obtain permits than with changing the rules on how chicken waste must be handled, officials said.
"It's just about working through that process to ensure that we're not duplicating efforts between departments, and that producers are not hearing two different versions of what they're required to meet," said Tom Womack, an Agriculture Department spokesman.
Tennessee is home to several major chicken processing plants including Tyson Foods facilities in Shelbyville and Union City, Koch Foods in Morristown and Pilgrim’s Pride in Chattanooga. Womack said each processing plant uses about 300 to 400 suppliers within a 150-mile radius.