Dairy Numbers Short But “Udderly” Vital To Tennessee Economy

With National Dairy Month quickly approaching in June, a major celebration is planned in the Volunteer State, and it’s been that way for a lot of years. The dairy industry has generated billions of dollars to our state’s economic activity for years and continues to do so even though the number of dairy farms you see along the roadsides has dwindled over the years. Last year, more than $157 million was put back into Tennessee’s economy by Tennessee’s dairy production.  

Tennessee’s dairy farmers are always focused on producing a nutritious product for you, the consumer, because not only is that their business, they also are consumers as well. Unlike a lot of business folks, their commute each day is a short one to the job site, consisting of only a few hundred yards in many cases to the dairy barn where they have staked their career on providing a product that meets some pretty high standards starting each day right in those dairy parlors where the cows receive the best of care.  

Our dairy farmers live and work each day on their farms taking pride in preserving not only the business, but also the land for future generations to come. It has been said of dairy farmers that caring for the environment is as much second nature as it is a priority. They use a pretty wide range of environmentally-sound practices for recycling water, conservation tillage, grass waterways, manure management and other methods of making sure the milk we drink each day is safe, along with protecting the environment of the cows they look after. And, it is reported due to advancements in technology and science, as well as a decline in the number of dairy cows within the United States, dairy farmers have reduced their carbon footprint by nearly 63 percent over the last 60 years. That is the equivalent of taking 32 million cars off the road. Dairy farmers were dealing with the carbon footprint concerns even before it was the “in” thing to do.  

Tennessee ranks 31st in the nation in milk production with eight processing plants located in the state at Athens, Covington, Kingsport, Memphis, Murfreesboro, Nashville (2) and Powell. Middle Tennessee State University also has its own processing plant manned by students to provide milk for on-campus consumption from the school’s own dairy farm used in processing training.  

In mid-May there were only 380 dairy farms in Tennessee compared to over 900 at the same time in the year 2000. Milk production in the state has dropped from an average of 2 billion pounds in 2000 to a total state production of 805 million pounds at the beginning of 2012.  

Numbers and production continue to decrease around the state, but those Tennessee dairy farmers who remain still produce perhaps the safest food product consumed in this country. From the 48,000 milk cows located in Tennessee, consumers receive a nutritious product containing nine essential vitamins and minerals, including protein, calcium and vitamins A and D.  

Seventy-one percent of our milk produced in this state is on family dairy farms that have fewer than 200 cows. The average milk cow in the state will cost $1,310 and will produce 6.1 gallons of milk a day. She will drink 50 gallons of water, eat 20 pounds of grain and feed, and 55 pounds of hay and silage, and chew her cud from 6 to 8 hours each day to produce those 6.1 gallons. The average cow produces 90 glasses of milk a day and she is doing her part to keep us healthy, but are we?  

Some folks say Tennesseans’ diets are lacking when it comes to good nutrition. We only get half the amount of fruit and milk we need to meet our daily requirements, says the U.S. Department of Agriculture. By getting three servings of dairy products a day, we can help boost our nutritional needs.  

June marks a month-long salute to dairy that began in 1937, and it has grown into an annual tradition. This year’s theme is “Dairy Packs Power.” The theme highlights the reasonable cost and the best nutritional value of dairy products for your money. When planning your meals, make sure to include nutrient-rich foods such as milk, cheese and yogurt. Dairy foods contain nine vitamins and minerals to help your family build strong bones. Penny for penny you can’t beat milk.        

In June, let’s honor the contributions of our dairy farmers who look after our good health, as well as work 24/7/365 to provide us consumers with fresh, wholesome dairy products.  


Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at pettusr60@gmail.com