Dairy numbers: Short, but ‘udderly’ vital

Pettus Read

Pettus L. Read

With National Dairy Month quickly approaching in June, let’s honor the contributions of our dairy farmers who look after our good health and provide us with fresh, wholesome dairy products.

The industry has generated billions of dollars for our state’s economy for years and continues to do so even though the number of dairy farms has dwindled. Last year, the state’s dairy production put more than $157 million back into Tennessee’s economy.

Our dairy farmers have staked their careers on providing a product that meets pretty high standards.

They take pride in preserving not only the business, but also the land for future generations.

They use a pretty wide range of environmentally sound practices for recycling water, conservation tillage, grass waterways, manure management and other methods of protecting the cows’ environment and making sure the milk we drink each day is safe.

Dairy farmers have reduced their carbon footprint by nearly 63 percent over the past 60 years because of advancements in technology and science, as well as a decline in the number of dairy cows within the U.S.

That is the equivalent of taking 32 million cars off the road. Dairy farmers were dealing with carbon footprints before they were the “in” thing to do.

Tennessee ranks 31st in the nation in milk production with eight processing plants in 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 from the school’s own dairy farm for on-campus use.

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

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

Seventy-one percent of milk produced in this state is on family dairy farms with fewer than 200 cows.

The average milk cow in the state costs $1,310 and produces 6.1 gallons of milk a day. She drinks 50 gallons of water, eats 20 pounds of grain and feed plus 55 pounds of hay and silage, and chews her cud from 6 to 8 hours each day to yield 90 glasses of milk a day.

The average cow is doing her part to keep us healthy. But are we?

Some say Tennesseans’ diets lack good nutrition. We only get half the amount of fruit and milk needed for our daily requirements, says the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Getting three servings of dairy products a day would boost our nutrition.

For this year’s National Dairy Month, the theme is “Dairy Packs Power.” This highlights the reasonable cost and nutritional value of dairy products for the money. When planning meals, include milk, cheese and yogurt to help your family build strong bones.

Penny for penny, you can’t beat milk.

Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. Contact him via email to pettusr60@gmail.com.

National Dairy Month