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Meet our Team

Team of Agricultural Advancement

The Division of Agricultural Advancement is a team of professionals dedicated to helping you succeed in creating or expanding your agricultural, food, or forestry business. Assistant Commissioner Ed Harlan and his team of agribusiness development consultants are prepared to help you in all phases of business development. Contact one of us today for more information on how we can help.

Ed Harlan

Expertise: All Areas of Agribusiness Development
Phone: 615-837-5299
Email: ed.harlan@tn.gov

Ed Harlan has been with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture since 2003 and is responsible for directing marketing, promotion and development activities. Harlan is a farmer, businessman and former Maury County executive. During Harlan's time at TDA, he has developed strategic plans to expand current business and grow new business within Tennessee's agriculture sector and established close working relationships with agencies and businesses statewide to ensure great cooperation and customer service. His efforts over the past few years have contributed to an increase in corporate and on-farm investments in Tennessee.

Debbie Ball

Expertise: Farm Direct Businesses
Phone: 615-924-1929
Email: debbie.ball@tn.gov

Debbie Ball has been with the Department of Agriculture since 2008, originally serving as the statewide outreach coordinator for the Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program. She also managed the division’s producer and consumer web services. She was named director of marketing in 2013.

In her current role, she manages the Pick Tennessee Products program and works to provide assistance for new and existing businesses. She also directs the activities of the Agricultural Marketing Consultants and coordinates the Specialty Crop Block Program, along with other programs that are a part of the division’s activities.

Before coming to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Ball held positions in both marketing and advertising companies and spent several years serving as the communications coordinator for the Tennessee Pork Producers Association. She was raised on her family’s farm in Coffee County where her family ran a purebred hog operation.

Louis Buck

Expertise: International Marketing, Barley, Hops
Phone: 615-806-3804
Email: louis.buck@tn.gov

A wealth of experience and relationships is perhaps the best way to describe the professional career of Louis Buck. From business development support of regional commands in Afghanistan to emerging alternative energy technologies and supply chains, he clearly sees the “big picture.”  Currently, he has rejoined the Tennessee Department of Agriculture working on implementation of the recent strategic plan for Rural Tennessee, agribusiness development and international marketing.

His previous private sector experience includes working closely with rapidly growing businesses seeking to transition from “start-up to grown-up” companies utilizing his diverse experiences, relationships and expertise in the areas of alternative energy, engineering, agriculture, mining, natural resources, business and government. 

Louis also previously served State Executive Director for the Tennessee Farm Service Agency (FSA) where he was accountable for annual program support exceeding $200 million in the areas of farm loans and programs and over 400 federal and county employees.  Prior to these four years in Federal Government, he served as the Deputy Commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture for eight years. Mr. Buck started his professional career an engineer for the Tennessee Valley Authority focused on water resources and community planning.

Whitney Flatt

Phone: 615-837-5334
Email: whitney.flatt@tn.gov

Whitney Flatt has been with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA) since 2016, serving as a Program Coordinator for the Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program (TAEP). During her time with TAEP, she oversaw the Grain Storage, Hay Storage, Livestock Feed Storage, and Livestock Working Facility Cover programs. She also served as TAEP’s outreach specialist, providing customer support to over 3,000 producers annually. 

Prior to joining TDA, Whitney worked as a Project Coordinator for the 2Seeds Network, a development non-profit based in Tanzania, East Africa. Her work with 2Seeds centered on agribusiness training, value and supply chain management, and human capital development.

Whitney holds a Bachelor of Science in International Relations from Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU), with her focus of study centering on food security and international development. While attending MTSU, she studied abroad in Czech Republic, Honduras, and Israel, as well as interned for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a D.C.-based policy think tank, with their Global Food Security Project.

Whitney is a native of Newbern, Tennessee.

Neil Owens

Expertise: Forestry, Wood Products
Phone: 615-982-5293
Email: neil.owens@tn.gov

Neil has over 13 years of experience in the forestry industry. His previously served in the role of State Forest Program Specialist with TDA’s Division of Forestry. Owens has a history of forestry consulting in the private sector prior to joining TDA, providing management strategies, promoting sustainable forestry initiatives, and managing more than 20,000 acres of timberland for investment firms and private landowners.

Neil is a West Virginia native and moved to Tennessee to obtain his Bachelor of Science degree in Forest Resource Management from the University of Tennessee. He enjoys off-roading, golf, and fly-fishing in his spare time. Neil and his wife, Dr. Laura Craig-Owens, have a newborn baby boy, Wilder.

Wendy Sneed

Expertise: Livestock, Meat Processing
Phone: 615-864-6367
Email: wendy.sneed@tn.gov

Wendy came to the Department of Agriculture in 2007 to work with the newly created Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program.  Wendy worked as the Coordinator for the Cattle Genetics, Livestock Equipment, Veterinarian and Livestock Market Programs. In 2009, she was promoted to Livestock Marketing Specialist overseeing the Market News Reporters and Livestock Graders, and working with producers in all aspects of livestock marketing.

Wendy was raised on her family’s dairy and row crop operation in West Tennessee. She participated in numerous 4-H and FFA judging events and attended yearly conferences.  Wendy worked full-time while completing her B.S. in Agriculture and her M.B.A. from the University of Tennessee at Martin. She lives with her husband Davy and her daughter Riley on Davy’s family farm, which they co-manage.  She oversees cattle marketing options in both registered and commercial herds for sales across the southeast and is the co-owner of DS Farm Supply, located in McMinnville.

Laura Vaught

Phone: 615-927-6290
Email: laura.vaught@tn.gov

Laura joined the Department of Agriculture as a Governor’s Management Fellow. She works on agribusiness and rural development, including supporting the Governor’s Rural Task Force and managing the Agriculture Enterprise Fund. She also served in the Department of Environment and Conservation, where she worked in the Office of General Counsel and the Commissioner’s Office.

She holds a J.D. with a business transactions concentration from the University of Tennessee College of Law and is licensed to practice law in Tennessee.  Laura earned a Master’s Degree in Agricultural Communications from Texas Tech University and her Bachelor’s Degree in Agriculture from Tennessee Tech University.

Laura has interned for Congressman Stephen Fincher, the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation, U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge for the Eastern District of Tennessee Suzanne Bauknight, and the UT-Battelle Office of General Counsel at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. During her senior year at Tennessee Tech, she was also an AmeriCorps member.