The Tennessee Department of Agriculture presented a plan Tuesday for $68 million in food sustainability spending at a pair of higher education labs to the state’s Financial Stimulus Accountability Group.

The spending would be part of $3.1 billion in federal stimulus spending from the American Rescue Plan Act.

In the funding proposal, $50 million would go to the University of Tennessee for 10 AgResearch and Education Centers across the state and $18.3 million would go to Tennessee State University to create a Center for Food and Animal Sciences.

TSU’s Chandra Reddy, the dean and director of research/administrator of Extension College of Agriculture, said he has had several candidates turn down positions in the past few years because TSU did not have the lab technology available. A new building would push the university and the state’s research forward, he said.

The research in the building would focus on “turning primary grains and meats into products,” according to Reddy, by helping farmers and entrepreneurs create new secondary products with raw materials grown in Tennessee.

“More importantly, we want to bring it to Tennessee companies,” Reddy said. “That’s the focus where this building will provide the visibility, the access, the technologies we are looking for.”

Hongwei Xin of UT AgResearch said his group has to travel outside of the state for high-tech research, but new facilities would allow his team to “test products, scale them up” and create innovation within Tennessee.

Both research developments would help increase food security within Tennessee, the plan states, while the UT facilities would “accelerate economic recovery, increase the resiliency of agriculture and food supply systems and improve public health.

“This will help us stay on top of needs that were identified during the pandemic,” Tennessee Department of Agriculture Commissioner Charles Hatcher said.