The USDA 2012 Census of Agriculture reports that the number of farms in Tennessee selling directly to consumers is up by almost 37 percent over the last 15 years, outpacing the national average. Photo courtesy UTIA.
SPRING HILL, Tenn. — Tennessee farmers and producers have seen demand for their farm-fresh, locally produced items steadily increase in recent years according to the most recent USDA Agricultural Census. Consumers have become more aware of the benefits of eating local food, including fruits, vegetables and meats.

For example, the Census reports the number of farms selling direct to consumers grew from 2,694 to 3,679, an increase of 36.6 percent. Even more important to the Tennessee economy is the parallel growth in the increased value of agricultural products sold directly to consumers. That is, from 1997 to 2012, the value of agricultural products sold increased from more than $8.3 million to more than $19.1 million, an increase of 128.9 percent. In both cases, Tennessee’s statistics outpaced the national average.

However, the increase in demand is only half the story. Farmers must successfully grow and market the food that consumers want. Value-added agriculture is a term that includes the production, processing, marketing and sales of local products, as well as the business analysis and development required to make the enterprise successful.

Every five years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports on the value of farm products within Tennessee and the nation. Beginning in 1997, the report also included value-added agriculture measurements. Included were questions about the number of farms with direct sales to consumers, the statewide value of farm products sold directly to consumers, and the average sales per farm. The latest report, with results from 2012, has just been released.

Robert Burns, University of Tennessee Extension assistant dean for agricultural and natural resources, sees only positives for the state’s agricultural community from such results. “The way food is produced and marketed in the U.S. has undergone significant changes over the past few years. Tennessee farmers have stepped up to meet the challenges and are continuing to refine their expertise as conditions evolve,” he said. “As part of the state’s land-grant university system, UT Extension is ideally suited to offer educational and training opportunities to help our producers succeed.”

In particular, UT Extension’s Center for Profitable Agriculture has the targeted mission of working with Tennessee farm enterprises to help them grow and prosper. With programs such as the Farmers Market Boot Camp, Direct Farm Marketing for Success and the Tennessee Value-Added Beef Program, the Center for Profitable Agriculture is involved in all the value-added areas the USDA report showcases.

Another example of an important growth area in agriculture is agritourism and recreational services, including such things as farm and winery tours, hayrides, and hunting and fishing. While the number of farms in Tennessee offering these services increased by 20.8 percent from 2007 to 2012 (510 to 616 farms), the value of agritourism and recreation increased by 83.1 percent in the same period, from $6.5 million to $11.9 million. The average agritourism sales per farm increased 51.6 percent ($12,759 to $19,342) in this five-year period. The average sales growth per farm during this period on a national level was negative, at -12.5 percent.

Some farms also sell value-added products involving processing, such as fruit jams, jellies and preserves or beef jerky. Floral arrangements are also marketed. In 2012, 3,551 Tennessee farms reported such activities, an increase of 30.6 percent from 2007. This increase is significantly higher than the national growth of 20.9 percent during the same period. Tennessee now ranks sixth in the nation in this category.

Rob Holland, director of UT’s Center for Profitable Agriculture, sees even more development potential for the state’s agriculture industry. “As the USDA Census results show, Tennessee has shown significant growth in many areas over the last several years. The roles of value-added agriculture, direct marketing and agritourism strengthen our farms’ diverse offerings and provide added sales revenues. Our Center staff works closely with farmers and producers across the state to analyze and develop their enterprises in whatever ways work best for them. We applaud their hard work.”

To see the Value-Added Agriculture in Tennessee: A Summary of 2012 Census Results, go to the UT Extension publications website and enter the title in the search engine. For more information about the Center for Profitable Agriculture, visit center’s website:

The Center for Profitable Agriculture is a joint effort of University of Tennessee Extension and the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. The UT Institute of Agriculture provides instruction, research and outreach through the UT College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, the UT College of Veterinary Medicine, UT AgResearch, including its system of 10 research and education centers, and UT Extension offices in every county in the state.



Rob Holland, director, Center for Profitable Agriculture, 931-486-2777,

Megan Bruch Leffew, marketing specialist, Center for Profitable Agriculture, 931-486-2777,