Read: Facing the last frontier
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"...I stand here tonight facing west on what was once the last frontier. From the lands that stretch three thousand miles behind us, the pioneers gave up their safety, their comfort and sometimes their lives to build our new West. They were not the captives of their own doubts, nor the prisoners of their own price tags. They were determined to make the new world strong and free -- an example to the world, to overcome its hazards and its hardships, to conquer the enemies that threatened from within and without.

Some would say that those struggles are all over, that all the horizons have been explored, that all the battles have been won, that there is no longer an American frontier. But I trust that no one in this assemblage would agree with that sentiment; for the problems are not all solved and the battles are not all won; and we stand today on the edge of a New Frontier... the frontier of unfilled hopes and unfilled threats...
The New Frontier is here whether we seek it or not.”

Those words were spoken by then Senator John F. Kennedy at the 1960 Democratic Convention in Los Angeles. He was referring to the frontier of space and its travel as he also embarked on his own frontier of becoming our 35th President of the United States. Of course we all understand how those words affected us all in later years as we did overcome those hazards and hardships, making this country’s mark on world history by even putting a man on the moon. The frontier of space travel brought about much change to the way we all live to even the way we communicate each and every day. Without those who took on that challenge to go beyond earth’s boundary, I wonder just where we would be in today’s scheme of things.

The other evening I had those same thoughts relating to a subject closer to home, sitting among approximately 200 people as I observed a public hearing in the town of Chapel Hill, Tennessee being conducted by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) concerning a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) state operating permit request. The permit was being requested by a farm family to build and operate a 1,800 dairy cow operation in northwest Bedford County. The farm would be on 300 acres and would be something Tennessee agriculture hasn’t seen in several years, a new dairy farm being constructed to sell milk locally. In 2000, when Tennessee still had over 2000 dairy farms in operation, we were a recognizable force in the national dairy industry. Today, with the dairy farm numbers hovering around 400 statewide, dairy production within our state has been going down hill fast, with the percentage of the milk consumed in this state coming from outside its borders. A new dairy of this size will at least help produce a product of local origin, as well as add much to the local economy in that area.

But, in today’s world you just don’t decide to build a dairy and do it. There is planning, designing, financing, and meeting regulation requirements at all levels. The public hearing I attended that evening dealt with wastewater runoff and how the animal waste would be taken care of. It also was a time for comments from the community and others who wished to voice their opinions. And as with anything, there were those who had their concerns.

The new frontier I saw in this event lies in the future of the family building the dairy and for the community who will be needed to support it. The farm family will not face challenges from hostile natives as their western forefathers did, but they will be challenged by environmental groups with as little understanding of dairy as the natives did of the pioneers those many years ago.

The farm family will not have their property taken by bandits, but they will be challenged on every corner by issues of government regulations to deal with waste disposal and even who owns the water that falls from the sky. And just like their ancestors, they also will face the hardships of the weather, cost, markets and the unknowns of what lies ahead. 

The family that is starting this venture is a third generation diary farm family who is moving to our state from California. They chose Tennessee over six other states because they liked us and not because we have easy regulations. In fact, Tennessee CAFO regulations are more stringent than EPA’s. But, this family wishes to move and build here because they want to be a part of our state and agricultural system. So much, they are willing to increase the standards for their operation beyond what TDEC requires and make the dairy a state-of-the-art farm. 

Just as John Kennedy referred to those many years ago that some say all the horizons have been explored, that all the battles have been won, that there is no longer an American frontier, and that he did not agree with that sentiment, I too have to agree that is not true even today. We have new horizons and it is good to see families like our new California friends settle back here on this new frontier.

- Pettus L. Read is Director of Communications for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at


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