Throughout the twentieth century, the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation has made a significant contribution to the economy and way of life of rural Tennessee. The Tennessee Farm Bureau grew out of the County Councils of Agriculture, first established in Blount County in 1919. A meeting in 1921 on the necessity of farm organization led to a statewide union of the County Councils. Two years later, this temporary association changed its name to the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation and joined the American Farm Bureau Federation.
One of the Farm Bureau’s goals is to assist in organizing farmers’ cooperatives. In 1923 the Farm Bureau helped to organize the Tennessee Cotton Marketing Cooperative. In 1932 the bureau cosponsored the Tennessee Livestock Producers’ Marketing Association. The bureau also helped to establish the Tennessee Burley Tobacco Growers’ Association in 1941. These new associations aggressively sought new markets and better prices for their members.
The Farm Bureau also established education programs about federal agricultural initiatives and farming methods. It cooperates with groups such as Future Farmers and the 4-H Club to teach young farmers new methods. The Bureau publishes Tennessee Farm Bureau News, Farm Bureau Digest, and many educational pamphlets and sponsors daily radio and television programs on Tennessee agriculture.
Lobbying quickly emerged as another key activity of the organization. Since World War II, the Farm Bureau has advocated better rural health programs, roads, and schools for farm communities. It became a powerful promoter of rural electrification. In the mid-1950s under the leadership of President T. J. Hitch, the bureau lobbied extensively against a proposal to allow private companies to build power plants in areas already served by the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Today, the Tennessee Farm Bureau reaches many Tennesseans through the Tennessee Farmers Mutual Insurance Company. In 1928 the organization first offered insurance to its members. These programs have become a major source of income for the Bureau and provide an avenue for public visibility for the organization through the company’s more than five hundred agents and claims representatives.
In 1923 the Tennessee Farm Bureau had 3,600 members. The number tripled in the next six years, but fell dramatically during the Great Depression. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, however, the bureau became a permanent establishment in many Tennessee counties, and by 1942 over 12,000 Tennesseans were members. Today, the Tennessee Farm Bureau counts 487,000 members and is the largest state bureau in the nation. More than any other early twentieth-century farm organization, the Tennessee Farm Bureau responded successfully to changes in southern agriculture such as population shifts, increasing agricultural diversification, the advent of new technology, and the decrease in farm tenancy to remain a vital part of the state’s rural life.