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White leads new dairy group

Friday, June 19, 2009

A new organization, the Tennessee Dairy Producers Association, has been created to be a voice for dairy farmers and their families in this state, and its leader is a Marshall County commissioner.

Dairy farmer Tony White, proprietor of Overland Hill Farm, is a member of the county's agriculture committee and was recently elected to be the new association's president. The independent, all-volunteer group's announcement was timed to coincide with June Dairy Month.

Association leaders hope to have participation of all 533 dairy farmers left in Tennessee, but it's already become active in the dairy industry and on Capitol Hill in Nashville.

With advocacy from White and his associates, state lawmakers have recognized a new category of milk, reduced fat Tennessee Prime Milk, that is skim milk with nutrients added back to the beverage without fat. It's to meet government standards as non-fat milk for school lunch program use, White explained.

The Dairy Farmers Prosperity Act would also allow consumers to buy milk and dairy products from a dairy farmer who raises and produces products on his own property, according to the lawmakers Fiscal Review Committee. Consumers would be required to provide their own containers for milk and the farmers wouldn't be able to advertise the dairy products.

The state House passed the bill June 11 and sent it to the state Senate.

The Tennessee Dairy Producers Association "will keep dairymen up to date on current issues facing the dairy industry," the association said this week in a prepared announcement. As expected of an advocacy group, the association "will monitor animal and environmental welfare, and will act as the dairyman's voice directly with the legislature."

The association was established with the help of the University of Tennessee and the Tennessee Farm Bureau. White acknowledged those two institutions' support and advocacy for agriculture, but explained dairy farmers face issues and have needs that are better expressed by from their specific perspective.

At about the same time of the new association's announcement, the Tennessee Cooperator, a trade publication for the Tennessee Farm Co-op, reports that milk has been named Tennessee's official beverage.

"Milk, cited by the Tennessee General Assembly as a 'super drink' because of its many health benefits, became the official beverage on April 2 when legislation passed by the House and Senate was signed into law by Gov. Phil Bredesen," the Cooperator reported.

Meanwhile, the trade journal reports statistics from the Southeast United Dairy Industry Association which include facts and figures for Tennessee.

> There are about 59,000 milk cows on dairy farms in the state.

> Dairy farmers received $194.6 million in cash receipts from milk sales last year.

> The average dairy cow produced 1,913 gallons of milk during 2008.

> A typical dairy farm had a herd of 107 milking cows.

> Marshall County has 31 Grade A dairy farms, compared to 49 in Greene, 36 in Washington, 30 in McMinn and 28 in Monroe.

> Tennessee dairy farms and related dairy businesses generated an estimated $817.4 million in economic activity.