Gov. Phil Bredesen and state Agriculture Commissioner Ken Givens on Wednesday announced the donation of more than $165,700 in private tobacco settlement funds to The Land Trust for Tennessee to support farmland preservation.
“Farmland preservation is more than just preserving our rich agricultural legacy and the land. It’s about achieving balance in our land-use planning and supporting a major component of our rural economy,” Bredesen said during a press conference at Elmington Agricultural Center. “I’m pleased that through this donation that we will be able to support private/public partnerships with The Land Trust to preserve working farms in Tennessee.”
The donation represents undesignated funds from the National Tobacco Growers Settlement Trust. The tobacco settlement trust was created in 1998 and approved by attorneys general from tobacco producing states.
The trust was funded by major tobacco manufacturers to help offset losses to farmers as a result of the Master Settlement Agreement.
“Over our 10 year history, we have been privileged to work with many Tennessee farmers, including the 60 families that have chosen to conserve their working farms in perpetuity,” said Jean Nelson, president and executive director of The Land Trust for Tennessee. “This fund will give us the opportunity to help many more. We appreciate the Tennessee Tobacco Farmers Certifying Board and the confidence they have placed in us to provide this assistance to Tennessee farmers.”
The donation was approved by the Tennessee Tobacco Farmers Certifying Board, which was created to oversee the distribution of tobacco settlement trust funds to Tennessee tobacco farm families. Approximately 50,000 Tennessee tobacco farm families shared in more than $170 million from the trust over a six-year period.
The board made the donation in closing out Tennessee’s tobacco trust account. Funding for the program ceased following the 2004 congressional buyout of the federal tobacco quota system.
“The tobacco settlement trust served its purpose by helping thousands of Tennessee tobacco farm families transition through some turbulent years in the industry,” said Givens, who serves as vice chairman of the certifying board. “I can’t think of a more fitting way to bring this program to a close than by helping farm families build a legacy through farm preservation.”
The Tennessee Department of Agriculture currently partners with The Land Trust to conserve farmlands by providing funds that help defray some of the legal and other costs that farmers may incur while permanently protecting their land. Through the Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program, The Land Trust has been successful in preserving over 30 farms totaling 9,000 acres since early 2007. The Land Trust will use this donation to expand its partnership with the state to protect critical farmlands throughout Tennessee.
For more information and resources on farmland preservation in Tennessee, click here.