by Pettus Read
A few years ago, I wrote a column about the concern I had about the continued loss of dairy farmers in the state. Dairy farms were going out of business at a rate of 100 a month and showed no signs of slowing down. As we once again begin summer with the celebration of June Dairy Month, I still continue to have that concern, and yes, we are still losing dairy farmers at a fairly rapid pace. Not hardly as fast, but still too many.
For the past eight years I have traveled a state highway in Marshall County going to and from work. Over the last seven of those years, the number of dairy cows and dairy barns that are no longer among us have become very obvious. The road I travel each day used to be a "dairy wonderland" of white concrete dairy parlors, pastures full of large, contented dairy cows, neat silos full of silage, corn fields, white two-story frame homes, and gate signs proclaiming the names of dairy farms reminiscent of the days of Rebecca of Sunnybrooke Farm. However, today that same stretch of highway has only one dairy farm on it, compared to just twelve years ago when as many as fifteen dairies produced grade A milk. The well-maintained roadside of lush green pastures has now become a maze of subdivisions with above-ground swimming pools and blacktop driveways. The cows have been replaced by SUVs and boats.
The dairy industry has generated billions of dollars over the years to our state's economy and continues to do so even with the drastic decrease in dairy producers. Last year, more than $507 million was put back into Tennessee's economy by Tennessee's dairy production.
In mid-spring there were only 663 dairy farms in Tennessee compared to 2,459 at the same time in the year 2000. Eight dairy farms have gone out of business since the first of the year. Milk production in the state has dropped from an average of 1.4 billion pounds in 2000 to a total state production of 1.1 billion at the beginning of 2005. 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 75,000 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 the 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 approximately $1,500 and will produce 6.1 gallons of milk a day. She will drink 35 gallons of water, eat 20 pounds of grain and feed, and 35 pounds of hay and silage to produce those 6.1 gallons. She is doing her part to keep us healthy, but are we?
This year's June Dairy Month theme urges us to "Find The Healthy Way
With 3-A-Day." In other words, consuming three servings of dairy a day
is a healthy choice for building a healthy body and lifestyle. Let's honor the contributions of our dairy farmers who look after our good health, as well as work 24/7/365 to provide consumers with fresh, wholesome dairy products.
Eating calcium-rich dairy foods such as milk, cheese and yogurt during childhood and adolescence will help build strong bones and reduce the risk of fractures and osteoporosis later in life, according to a report
released by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The report stresses the importance of parental role modeling, physical activity and calls for pediatricians to regularly check whether their patients are getting enough calcium.
The Southeast United Dairy Industry Association (SUDIA) says that the report comes at a critical time, with USDA data indicating that 7 out of 10 teen boys and 9 out of 10 teen girls are not getting the calcium they need. Calcium is important for the development of peak bone mass, especially among our teenagers.
"The AAP recommends children eat three servings of milk, flavored milk, cheese or yogurt a day," says Frank Greer, MD, FAAP (Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics), chairman of the AAP Committee on Nutrition, and author of the report. "While there's no cure for osteoporosis, eating 3-4 servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy foods will help children get the calcium they need to build strong bones, which will benefit them throughout life."
So help yourself and Tennessee's dairy farmers by making "A Triple Play with 3-A-Day". It also could be the difference in the scenery you see the next time you drive in the country.
I just hope the next generation uses their imaginations in fun ways like we did. It sure makes life a whole lot easier and tremendously less expensive.