Business development: a top priority for TDA

(Back) Whitney Flatt, International; Rachel Sullivan, Executive Assistant; (Front) Mike Brown; Food Products; Kyle Hensley, Agritourism/Spirits; Grant Pulse, Farmers Markets; Debbie Ball, Pick TN Products; Wendy Sneed, Livestock; Neil Owens, Forestry; Keith Harrison, Assistant Commissioner. Photo provided by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture.

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA) is announcing a new structure for its division dedicated to supporting new and expanding agricultural and forestry businesses.

The renamed business development division will prioritize agricultural economic development by increasing profitability and viability of farm and forest businesses, which are vital to Tennessee’s rural and overall economy.

“Gov. (Bill) Lee and I are both dedicated to supporting Tennessee’s agribusinesses, which in turn strengthens our rural economies,” Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Hatcher D.V.M. said. “With this renewed focus on business development, we will work to expand opportunities for agricultural innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship — areas that are crucial to any state’s future success in the agriculture industry.”

Keith Harrison will lead the division as assistant commissioner. Harrison began his career at the Tennessee Department of Agriculture as an agricultural marketing specialist in 1984 and served as director of marketing until the end of 2000. In 2001, he was named the feed/animal health marketing manager at Tennessee Farmers Cooperative and served as the organization’s communication and marketing manager until early 2017. Harrison then served as TDA’s assistant commissioner for consumer and industry services, leading the regulatory programs affecting consumer protection and food safety until early 2019, when he shifted to leadership of the business development division.

Focus areas will include international marketing, farm-direct marketing, and industry development. The division will also look to strengthen Tennessee’s agriculture industry through cost-share programs, such as the Agriculture Enterprise Fund and Specialty Crop Block Grants.The division will provide strategic direction and outreach for the Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program.

A renewed emphasis has been established for export promotion and international marketing through the Southern United States Trade Association (SUSTA).  SUSTA, in partnership with the USDA’s Foreign Agriculture Service shares the costs of overseas marketing and promotional activities with small businesses that help build commercial export markets for U.S. agricultural products. In April, TDA hosted an inbound trade mission where buying agents from Canada were introduced to Tennessee beer, wine, and spirits producers. The division participated in the American Food Fair in Chicago and the Summer Fancy Food Show in New York this year, connecting Tennessee food manufacturers with international buyers. Other countries of focus include Mexico, Argentina, Vietnam, India, and China.

The division will also have a new food products business consultant. Mike Brown has been with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture since 2014, originally serving as outreach coordinator in the consumer and industry services division. As a business consultant, he is a resource for new and expanding food manufacturers by developing marketing opportunities. Brown has 36 years of experience in the food industry, and prior to joining the department, he worked as a food marketing and product development consultant.

Staff members in the business development division will work to increase agricultural commodity processing and production capacity in the state to accommodate the growing demand and opportunity for direct and retail sales through incentives for upgrading and expanding facilities. They will also work towards the creation of an open market for state food service systems to increase the purchase of fresh, Tennessee-produced products by school systems, hospitals, correction facilities and other Tennessee organizations with a dual purpose of increasing nutritional offerings and farm income.

The Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s mission is to promote wise use of our agricultural and forest resources, develop economic opportunities, and ensure safe and dependable food and fiber for the citizens of Tennessee. For more information about TDA’s business development division, visit

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