READ: June is dairy month

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Is it not amazing how things we used to take for granted seem to change overnight? From the clothes we wear to the food we eat, nothing remains the same and some of the changes can really cause those of us of the boomer generation a lot of thought time.

Due to some recent surgery, just the other day I was eating a snack of yogurt – something I would have never thought of doing just a few years ago – and began thinking about how something that would have been a strange thing for me to do in the past, has become something I do very often now a days. I have to admit that when yogurt came on the dairy scene, I was not one of its fans. When they started using it to compete with my daily ice cream habit, I did not talk too pleasant about this bacteria-laden product.

Growing up all I ever heard at home, school and from the local health department was that a good bacteria was a dead bacteria. The last thing you wanted to do was eat one. But, now we have learned that there are good bacteria and yogurt is suppose to contain some of the best kind of bacteria for the human body, if you have to digest them into your diet. And since one of the world's largest producers of yogurt is located right here in Tennessee, and me being a former dairy farm boy, I have to support the local products. Yoplait is processed at its plant in Murfreesboro, which is located only about eleven miles from my farm, and makes a good product that us boomers seem to need more of these days.

During the 50s and 60s in the county where I live, I remember that everyone I knew was involved in the dairy industry in some way or the other. You either owned dairy cows and sold milk or worked on a dairy farm milking cows. That is not the case today. Now there are less than 10 dairy farms and that number is decreasing daily. In mid-May there were less than 410 dairy farms in the whole state of Tennessee, compared to more than 600 at the same time just five years ago. Milk production in the state has dropped from an average of a little less than 1 billion pounds in 2007 to a total state production of 810 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 50,000 milk cows located in Tennessee, consumers receive a nutritious product containing nine essential vitamins and minerals, protein, calcium and vitamins A and D, as well as some real good yogurt.

I often hear organizations like HSUS use the term industrial farms to describe the farms in our state in some of their news releases. That term is so wrong and hurtful to the farm families who do an outstanding job producing our food. Seventy-one percent of our milk produced in this state is on family dairy farms that have less than 200 cows. All of the dairy farms are family owned and operated. True, they don’t milk by hand as our early ancestors did, but they are very concerned about the well-being and health of every animal on their farms.

I do worry about our farms being misrepresented in the media by these organizations with special causes to do away with animal agriculture.

The other day in my own local paper, the Tennessee director of HSUS labeled one of my columns as sinister in motive. Those who actually know me (which Ms. McCollum does not) may have laughed out loud when the term sinister was used to describe me. I’m more of a teacake and apron strings kind of person who does look after the agribusiness community, which I will gladly admit. Having grown up on a Tennessee farm, majored in agriculture and worked for 44 years for a non-profit farm organization promoting farming, I will have to say I’m very supportive of our Tennessee farmers and if those actions are seen as sinister in the eyes of the Humans Smiling Under Subterfuge organization, so be it.

June marks a month-long salute that began in 1937, and has grown into an annual tradition. June is National Dairy Month and has been a major celebration within the Volunteer State for many years. The dairy industry has generated billions of dollars over the years to our economy and continues to do so today. This month, let’s honor the contributions of our dairy farm families who look after our good health, as well as work 24/7/365 to provide us consumers with fresh, wholesome dairy products. To celebrate the occasion, have a container of yogurt. It’s high in calcium, which us boomers need, and it has that good bacterium in it too!

I still can’t believe I’m pushing bacteria.

- 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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