“We are basically too good at what we do,” said Celeste.
One healthy, high producing cow gives about 105 pounds of milk per day, and at Blackburn Dairy Farm they keep their cows healthy. It has been a Grade A dairy since 1957.
Although operating costs have gone up, the Blackburns, like other dairy farmers, have seen a decrease in milk prices. Last year they were paid $1.80 per gallon, but that has dropped to $1.69 per gallon this year. Celeste said they hope to see prices level out around September.
“Even then we won’t be breaking even,” she said. Still they must continue maintaining their herd in top condition.
“Our cows are like our children. When one gets sick, we contact their doctor,” she said.
Celeste is a third generation dairy farmer and her husband Albert has followed in the footsteps of his father and his father’s father to the sixth generation on the family farm in Dumplin Valley that dates back to 1893.
Celeste reminds people that milk has to compete against 60,000 alternative products, including plant-based milks, such as almond milk that has seen sales growth of 250 percent over the past five years. The outlook seems a bit grim.
Last month, 11 dairy farms in East Tennessee received notice from Dean Foods, their milk purchaser, that their contracts would be terminated in 90 days. Dean Foods Company is the largest processor and distributor of milk and other dairy products in the United States.
Fortunately, the five dairy farms in Jefferson County continue producing milk, but their owners all have concerns. Four of them sell milk to Piedmont Company, while the Blackburn’s market is Dairy Farmers of America (ADA) Cooperative.
As president of the ADA, Celeste is not permitted to do any lobbying. However she plays a major role in guiding other dairy farmers in promoting their product. She also helps manage programs that contribute dairy products to food banks.
“Our job is to educate the public,” said Celeste.
Albert also wants to reassure people that there is no food more tested and regulated than milk and dairy products.
Despite the conscientious dedication of most dairy farmers, between 2016 and 2017, the number of people working on dairy farms in Tennessee was reduced by 17. Herds have decreased by 3,000 milk cows. According to Celeste, who is also on the Tennessee Beef Council, the price of beef is down, so there has been no great demand for that market to absorb dairy cows.
So, Celeste and Albert, along with the other dairy farmers, will continue milking their cows twice a day (on Sundays and Christmas, too), and promoting the health benefits of milk.
The USDA reports that dairy products are the primary source of calcium in the American diet. Milk is a good source of calcium, Vitamin D, potassium, and protein. According to the National Dairy Council, milk is filled with nine essential nutrients that benefit everyone’s health. Calcium builds healthy bones and teeth and maintains bone mass. Protein serves as a source of energy and builds and repairs muscle tissue. Potassium helps maintain a healthy blood pressure.
Remember, too, that dairy farmers are independent business people who work hard and are strictly regulated for safety. They love what they do. Even now Celeste says they are hopeful and optimistic about the future of the dairy industry.
She recommends one way to help dairy farmers, if you are so inclined. “The next time you buy a gallon of milk, buy an extra one and donate it to a food bank for someone who needs it but can’t afford it,” said Celeste.
By: Gayle Page
Source: Standard Banner