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Cherry Addresses Secretary Of Agriculture At the invitation of Tennessee Commissioner of Agriculture Dan Wheeler, TWHBEA Executive Director Bob Cherry and 350-400 other Tennessee agriculture leaders heard United States Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman discuss President George W. Bush's energy policy and its effect on agriculture. The meeting was held May 23 at the AgriCenter International in Memphis. Attending with Cherry was Celebration CEO Ron Thomas. Following her remarks, Secretary Veneman opened the floor for questions and comments. Those wishing to speak were asked to register upon entering the AgriCenter. Ten people, including Cherry, were selected to address the Secretary in a public session that lasted more than an hour. His entire statement to the Secretary was as follows: "Secretary Veneman, Commissioner Wheeler, distinguished guests, my name is Bob Cherry and I am the Executive Director of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' and Exhibitors' Association and our office is in Lewisburg, Tennessee. We are the worldwide registry for the Tennessee Walking Horse breed. We currently have 18,000 members in all 50 states and 12 foreign countries. Madam Secretary, the equine business in Tennessee is an important and significant part of Tennessee's agricultural economy. It was the best-kept secret in Tennessee agriculture until Commissioner Dan Wheeler came along. In a recent survey released by the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service, Tennessee now ranks third, only behind Texas and California, in equine population in the United States. In a recent survey conducted by the Tennessee Agricultural Statistics Service, we found that the equine industry certainly makes a significant contribution to our state's economy, totaling nearly $4.9 billion in assets and $406 million in annual expenditures. The Tennessee Walking Horse breed is the official state horse and is the largest breed in the state. The survey revealed that there are 51,000 Tennessee Walking Horses in Tennessee and that they have a total value of $199.7 million, which also makes them the most valuable breed in the state. The Celebration, our world championship horse show in Shelbyville, Tennessee, is the largest horse show in America from a spectator and entry standpoint. Last year the Celebration had 250,000 attendees and over 4,000 entries during the 10-day show. Fortunately, the Tennessee Walking Horse industry is one of growth industries in Tennessee agriculture. Our breed has been, for the past five years, the second fastest growing breed in America. Our registry has risen from eighth on the top-10 list of breed registries to fourth place in the past 15 years. And we continue to grow at a steady rate. Most of our horses, about 90%, are pleasure horses that are enjoyed and used for trail riding and other farm and family activities. The other 10% are enjoyed and used for show ring competition. Madam Secretary, I'm sure that you are aware that the show ring aspect of our breed and business is regulated by your department, and has been for the past 30 years. The Horse Protection Act has been one of the best things that has happened to our breed and business and certainly has been a positive influence on our growth. For the most part, our experience with the USDA over the past 30 years has been positive. Occasionally, like any other federally regulated industry, we feel like we get the short end of the stick from our "big brother" government. We would be hopeful, that on occasion, when that happens, we would have access to you and your office. As I have said, fair and equitable application of the regulations has played a big part in our growth and success. We appreciate the opportunity to partner with the Department, as we currently do, and we look forward to the time n hopefully sometime in the near future n that we can "self-regulate". Madame Secretary, Commissioner Wheeler, on behalf of the Tennessee Walking Horse breed and business, we want you to know how much we appreciate your recognition of our industry and certainly appreciate the opportunity to be here with you tonight. Thank you very much." Following Cherry's remarks, Secretary Veneman responded by saying that she was glad to hear about the current "partnering" between the Department and the industry. "I know when I was there (at the USDA) during another administration things were not going well between the Department and the industry," she said. She continued by telling Cherry that she would do everything possible to see that successful "partnering" continue. A barbecue dinner was held following the meeting where Cherry was seated next to Secretary Veneman and was able to have a private, informal conversation with her. "My take on Secretary Veneman is that she is a very straightforward, no nonsense kind of person and it is very refreshing and enlightening to know that the Department has that type of leadership at the top," commented Cherry. "I was very impressed with her because she made no attempt to make an impression on anyone. She was very easy to talk to and very responsive." TWHBEA was one of four organizations that sponsored the meal at a cost of approximately $700 each.

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