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The Greeneville Sun


Saturday, March 21, 2020

Forecast For Dairy Farmers Isn’t Promising


Kayla and Brant Stooksbury stand with one of their cows.

But Many Tennesseans Want Local Products, Some Say BY O.J. EARLY SUN CONTRIBUTOR Anyone with even a remote connection to agriculture knows that dairy farmers have endured tremendous challenges over the years. Officials asked to reflect on the state of dairy farming in both Greene County and across the state aren’t particularly optimistic about the future. “Unfortunately, I think the number of dairy farms will continue to decline,”

said Lee Maddox, director of communications for Tennessee Farm Bureau. As of early 2020, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture recognized 20 dairy farms in Greene County. That’s a tiny fraction of what once was. Just four years ago in 2016, there were 35. In the early 1990s, the county had about 200. Flashback to the 1950s, the figure hovered just under 6,000. From a spike in operating costs to difficulty in finding reliable labor, what

is driving the dip in smallscale dairy farms has been the subject of debate and speculation for decades. “Dairy farmers often share challenges they’re facing and what they are experiencing as the industry changes. They tell us they’ve observed changes in consumer preferences and in industry expectations,” said Kim Doddridge, public information officer with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. “Prices of feed, fuel, and equipment

Benchmarks C Story Index Forecast For Dairy Farmers Isn’t Promising ........................................................ 2 Agricultural Summit Planned For September ...................................................... 3 Farmers Endured Weather Extremes In 2019 ...................................................... 4 Tennessee Selected For USDA Dairy Business Innovation Grant ........................ 5 New Dairy Coverage Tool Is Available For Farmers............................................. 6 How Farmers Are Using Drones ........................................................................... 7 Rescuers Practice Farm, Heavy Machinery Responses ........................................ 8

continue to rise as milk prices have dropped. Even though farmers report the prices are rebounding, the industry hasn’t recovered from the initial drop.” Farmers have consistently reported their struggles in finding “reliable, skilled workers to hire and in having younger family members who desire work outside of the family farm,” said Doddridge. Maddox backed that up. “The ones remaining don’t always have family members available to carry

the operation forward,” Maddox said. “The average age of our dairy farmers is in the 60s and its cost prohibitive for many young farmers to ‘start’ in the dairy business.” Mergers among large corporations, as well as financial troubles by others, have also dealt crippling blows to many area dairy farmers. In 2018, an announcement that Dean Foods was nixing about 100 dairy farming contracts nationwide – including 11 in East Tennessee

and three in Greene County – left many scrambling for answers. A bit of silver lining: officials and many farmers maintain that a movement is underway to produce milk that is “sourced, processed and bottled in Tennessee,” Doddridge said. Stooksbury Dairy Creamery, a Jefferson County-based business that opened in April 2019, provides products to a few SEE DAIRY ON PAGE 3

Benchmarks C Advertisers Index Boutiques & More Guide ..................................................................................................3 Electrical Guide ................................................................................................................ 5 Farm & Produce Guide .....................................................................................................4 Funeral Home Guide ........................................................................................................3 Greeneville Oil & Petroleum.............................................................................................8 Plumbing Guide ................................................................................................................5 Restaurant Guide ..............................................................................................................2 Tax Guide ....................................................................................................................6 & 7

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Saturday, March 21, 2020

The Greeneville Sun

Page 3

Agricultural Summit Planned For September BY O.J. EARLY SUN CONTRIBUTOR Building on what organizers said was a successful event last year, the University of Tennessee’s Clyde Austin 4-H Center in Greeneville will host the 2020 Regenerative Agricultural Summit Sept. 23-25. With a range of goals, including strengthening the health of farming communities, this year’s summit will include speakers from around the world, according to Mike McElroy, president of USA Regenerative Agricultural Alliance, Inc. The speakers: • Ian Mitchell-Innes, from South Africa. “Ian Mitchell-Innes has been practicing Holistic Management for 20 years on his ranch in South Africa. He has made mistakes and wishes to share with Ranchers and Farmers how to avoid these costly mistakes,” McElroy said in an emailed statement. “He teaches Farmers and Ranchers how to FEED the whole – Grass, Animal, Soil surface, Subsoil, using animals at High and Ultra High Stock Density (Mob Grazing).” • Greg Judy, from Missouri. “With two decades of experience behind him, Greg has learned how to make farming successful by mimicking nature with his grazing management, and building his operation on leased land,” McElroy said. “He’s well-known in the grazing community for sharing

Greg Judy will be among the speakers at the Regenerative Agricultural Summit to be held Sept. 23-25 at the Clyde Austin 4-H Center.

his experience to help others be successful.” • Russ Wilson, from Pennsylvania. “Using adaptive grazing, he took a conventional farm and doubled the carry capacity while taking 90% of the inputs out. Russ travels to farms all over the United States spending

time with farmers and ranchers talking about how to convert your farm/ranch for profitability and resilience,” McElroy said. Topics covered can be fencing, watering, adaptive grazing, lowering inputs, reducing hay making (if you are making hay), profitability, and increasing the


Greene County outlets. That includes Critters Corner Market, a popular spot located in Mosheim, and Troyer’s Mountain View Country Market in Limestone. “People love buying local. People like knowing where their food comes from. They like having the ability to reach out to us directly to ask questions and get answers about our products,” said Kayla Stooksbury, a West Greene High School graduate. Her husband, Brant, and family run the creamery. “Our milk does not travel to be processed and travel again to be distributed. It is processed on our farm in


The Stooksbury Dairy Creamery provides products to several Greene County businesses.

Jefferson County and then we deliver the same day or next day after it is processed,” she said. “We have had a huge demand for our milk, and we are very

thankful for the support we have had over the past year from our community.” Officials continue to lament the changes that have forced out scores of

overall yields of your farm/ ranch. All this can be done with less labor.” Other speakers, including Dr. Forbes Walker and Dr. Gary Bates, both from the University of Tennessee, and Big Spring Farm owner Greg Brann will discuss efforts to diversify not only forage, but

small-scale dairy farmers. They likewise remain hopeful that a local food movement could trigger positive results for those remaining in the trade. “Some of our smaller dairy farms are some of the best managed and have little or no overhead costs, but they struggle to compete with larger operations. Smaller dairies simply can’t provide the production or a tanker of milk the way larger dairies can provide,” Maddox said. “But one hopeful aspect remains that many people want more local food and even milk. That would give smaller dairies an opportunity to stay in business. Many are starting to provide more at the farm like creameries, ice cream and cheese.”

also livestock. “Greg rotationally grazes cattle, sheep, and goats in one large herd. A large variety of forages including both cool-season and warm-season species are strategically seeded for grazing and land management,” McElroy added. “No fertilizer is applied to

pastures and forages are only harvested by grazing.” The inaugural event, held last fall, drew more than 100 people. Information, including registration details, are available on the group’s Facebook page. Those interested may also call 800-7884709.

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Page 4

The Greeneville Sun


Saturday, March 21, 2020


Farm equipment sits in flood waters off Houston Valley Road in February 2019. Local farmers enduring a year of extreme weather, with flooding early and a “flash drought” later in the year.

Farmers Endured Weather Extremes In 2019 BY O.J. EARLY SUN CONTRIBUTOR From destructive winter flooding followed months later by a punishing autumn dry spell, there was plenty in 2019 that the agricultural community might like to forget. One bit of good news: what happened in 2019 may stay there. “I think the effects of the drought situation were mostly localized in that the dry period, and while severe in the short term, should not have serious effects long term into the 2020 growing season,” said Milton Orr, Greene County’s University of Tennessee Extension director. “The exception may be if producers run short on hay and cattle body condition declines significantly during the winter. Cows may not breed readily

in the spring breeding season, possibly resulting in a decline in the calving percentage of spring bred females.” Weather extremes highlighted 2019, and farmers felt that reality early in the year. The University of Tennessee’s AgResearch and Education Center at Greeneville on East Allens Bridge Road logged nearly 17 inches of precipitation from January through March. For perspective, the 30-year average for that three-month period is about 10 inches. Officials fielded reports of flooded bottomlands, washed-away fences and damaged equipment. Danny Myers, whose family farms hay and cattle across dozens of acres in Mosheim, endured the frequent heavy rain. “What we got into was

fencing getting washed away a couple of times. We sort of got into a routine that when it came a big rain, we knew we had to go check the fences,” Myers said. “And there was a day or two when we couldn’t even make it to the fences because the water was up so much.” On one occasion, saturated ground resulted in trees falling on fences. Beyond that repair, actually getting to his cattle occasionally proved difficult. “I had to take my tractor to the dealership because I got down so deep in the mud that I hit a piece on the bottom of the tractor that was holding the hydraulic hoses,” Myers said. “They got it fixed up, but I never dreamed that I would get that deep in the mud.” Despite plentiful rain through the first half of

the year, roasting temperatures and barely any precipitation near summer’s end launched what forecasters termed a “flash drought.” The dry spell started in late August and intensified through the start of fall. Meteorologists spoke about the “unusual” nature of the 2019 drought. “More often than not, droughts build over many months,” said George Mathews, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Morristown. “What we have experienced with this drought is not necessarily rare, but it is unusual. The rain basically shut off in August.” By mid-October, officials with the federal government’s Drought Monitor listed almost all the county in a severe drought – the third of five categories that usually means crop and

pasture losses, in addition to water shortages on farmland. The UT Center recorded a piddly 0.24 inches of rain in September. “Crops such as corn and soybeans also suffered to a degree in terms of planting dates. While a portion of the crop was in the ground at a seasonal time, some acreage was planted late due to wet field conditions,” Orr said. “While this normally has a minimum effect on yield, the extremely dry weather during August and September had negative effects on yield for the late planted crops.” He added, “Significant decreases in forage growth during August and September due to drought conditions also severely limited fall hay yields and curtailed the stockpiled forages leading to some producers

feeding hay early.” Grim as those reports were, farmers in other parts of the nation felt Mother Nature’s wrath even more. Reports from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show that more than 19 million acres went unplanted in 2019 thanks to winter and spring flooding. More than 70% of those acres were in the Midwest, a situation that meant many large-scale operations in states such as Iowa and Illinois suffered considerable financial setbacks, the USDA reported. “As extreme as the weather was this year, so were the yields for crops,” said Lee Maddox, director of communications for Tennessee Farm Bureau. “Many farmers had really good yields on corn, while soybean yields have not been as good.”

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Saturday, March 21, 2020

The Greeneville Sun

Page 5



Tennessee was one of three states selected in 2019 to receive a new Dairy Business Innovation Initiatives grant from the USDA for the purpose of developing innovative dairy products.

Tennessee Selected For USDA Dairy Business Innovation Grant KNOXVILLE — In November, a team of collaborators from four departments within the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture as well as the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Middle Tennessee State University, Tennessee Dairy Producers Association and other dairy industry specialists, received a Dairy Business Innovation Initiatives grant from the USDA for the purpose of developing innovative dairy products. The DBII, a new program in 2019, is a $1.36-million program funded by USDA to support regional initiatives aimed at diversifying dairy product markets and improving farm income, a news release said. Tennessee, Vermont and Wisconsin were each selected to receive approximately $454,000 to support dairy business innovation. In Tennessee, the award should help the state’s struggling dairy industry regain some economic

traction, the release said. Hal Pepper, a financial specialist with the UT Center for Profitable Agriculture, was selected to coordinate the Tennessee effort. “The project is aimed at assisting Tennessee dairy farmers in diversifying dairy product markets, reducing risks and developing higher-value uses for dairy products,” Pepper said. “We will also develop educational programs to assist them with business development strategies that diversify their farm income beyond the production of milk, for example through processing and marketing specialty products like cheese or ice cream, or perhaps something altogether new.” Rob Holland, director of the UT Center for Profitable Agriculture, added, “This project will also provide on-site analysis of processing, packaging and marketing of dairy products. We are excited to be collaborating with the Tennessee Department

of Agriculture Business Development Division and many other industry partners.” One component of the project provides the opportunity for subawards to be administered by TDA directly to selected dairy farmers across the state. These subawards will help support the development and implementation of business and marketing plans that improve farm income through the sale of value-added dairy products. “Dairy farmers in Tennessee and throughout the southeast are facing many challenges,” Tennessee Commissioner of Agriculture Charlie Hatcher, D.V.M., said at the time. “Yet they still go to the barn every day to care for their livestock and provide us with the highest-quality products. I’m pleased that USDA has recognized the ability of the University of Tennessee to bring leadership to this effort, and we’re proud to be a partner to support and advance the

dairy industry in Tennessee.” A final educational component of the award involves young people and creative ways to add value to the basic dairy products of milk, cream and butter. Project staff will invite college seniors studying food science to create and present new concepts for innovative products to dairy producers each year of the DBII. “This is a significant award and good news for Tennessee dairy farmers and for our future educational programs, said Holland. Tim Cross, senior vice president and senior vice chancellor for the UT Institute of Agriculture added, “This project is a great example of addressing challenges in the dairy industry through an integrated approach that includes education, government support, and engagement of industry partners and producers to develop innovative solutions that benefit dairy producers.”



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Page 6

The Greeneville Sun


Saturday, March 21, 2020

New Dairy Coverage Tool Is Available For Farmers In May, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the availability of a new web-based tool — developed in partnership with the University of Wisconsin — to help dairy producers evaluate various scenarios using different coverage levels through the new Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) program. The 2018 Farm Bill authorized DMC, a voluntary risk management program that offers financial protection to dairy producers when the difference between the all milk price and the average feed cost (the margin) falls below a certain dollar amount selected by the producer, USDA officials said in a news release. It replaces the program previously known as the Margin Protection Program for Dairy. “… We encourage producers to use this new support tool to help make decisions on participation in the program,” Perdue said. “Dairy producers have faced tough challenges over the years, but the DMC program


A web-based tool introduced in 2019 helps dairy producers evaluate various scenarios using different coverage levels through the Dairy Margin Coverage SEE TOOLS ON PAGE 8 program.


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Saturday, March 21, 2020

The Greeneville Sun

Page 7

How Farmers Are Using Drones BY METRO CREATIVE The farmers of yesteryear might not be too familiar with their surroundings if they were to visit a modern farm. While the men and women who made their livings as farmers decades ago would no doubt still recognize certain farm features that have withstood the test of time, they might not understand the inner workings of the modern farm, particularly in regard to the role technology now plays within the agricultural sector. Technology has changed agriculture in myriad ways. The methods farmers employ to produce food and improve the efficiency of their operations has changed as technology has evolved. One of the more noticeable changes that’s hard to miss on modern farms is the use of agricultural drones. Drones have been around for decades. Sometimes referred to as “unmanned aerial vehicles,” or “UAVs,” drones can be


Drones have been around for decades. Sometimes referred to as “unmanned aerial vehicles,” or “UAVs,” drones can be utilized in ways that can save farmSEE DRONES ON PAGE 8 ers money and protect the planet.




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Page 8

The Greeneville Sun


Saturday, March 21, 2020

Rescuers Practice Farm, Heavy Machinery Responses BY CICELY BABB STAFF WRITER Greeneville Emergency and Rescue Squad volunteers sharpened their skills in a Farm and Machinery Rescue Class in September. The 16-hour class introduced situations involving farm and heavy equipment accidents and related hazards and was taught by college-level certified instructors from the Tennessee Association of Rescue Squads. Topics covered included stabilization for tractor overturns, equipment disassembly and identifying dangerous chemicals such as pesticides and fertilizers. Squad 1st Lt. Eric Kaltenmark said the class is important because heavy machinery and farm equipment tends to have more moving parts than most vehicles do, making rescue situations more dangerous. It is also important because accidents involving these types of machines are less common than other types of accidents, so they deal with them less frequently. “Everyone is familiar with cars and trucks, but

not everyone operates farm machinery,” Kaltenmark said. The instructors used a “building block method,” practicing scenarios multiple times and adding a new step each time, said Brian Robinson, TARS training coordinator. Although such accidents are less common than car accidents, figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed 581 fatalities in the agricultural sector in 2017, or 23 deaths per 100,000 workers, making it the most dangerous job in America. The two-day September session started with classwork in the morning and ended with equipment familiarization in the afternoon. On the second day, the class practiced hands-on rescue techniques in various scenarios and with different equipment. Robinson said the firstday focus was mostly on how to stabilize different equipment, while the second-day practice scenarios involved the added challenge of removing a straw dummy representing a patient. Practice scenarios included accidents involving a tractor and a car, a


should help producers better weather the ups and downs in the industry.” The University of Wisconsin launched the decision support tool in cooperation with FSA and funded through a cooperative agreement with the USDA Office of the Chief Economist. The tool was designed to help producers determine the level of coverage under a variety of conditions that will provide them with the strongest financial safety net. It allows farmers to simplify their coverage level selection by combining operation data and other key variables to calculate coverage needs based on price projections. The decision tool assists producers with calculating total premium costs and administrative fees associated with

“We salute the men & women in the agriculture industry.”


Farm and Machinery Rescue class members work on stabilizing an overturned tractor with a straw dummy pinned underneath it.

tractor overturned with a person trapped underneath, and other accidents

participation in DMC. It also forecasts payments that will be made during the coverage year. “The new Dairy Margin Coverage program offers very appealing options for all dairy farmers to reduce their net income risk due to volatility in milk or feed prices,” said Dr. Mark Stephenson, director of Dairy Policy Analysis, University of Wisconsin, Madison. “Higher coverage levels, monthly payments, and more flexible production coverage options are especially helpful for the sizable majority of farms who can cover much of their milk production with the new 5 million pound maximum for Tier 1 premiums. This program deserves the careful consideration of all dairy farmers.” For more information, access the tool at fsa.usda.gov/dmc-tool. For DMC sign up, eligibility and related program information, visit fsa.usda.gov.

involving various other equipment. Kaltenmark said the

squad had a “wonderful situation as far as support from the community and


utilized in ways that can save farmers money and protect the planet. • Monitor crops: According to senseFly, the commercial drone subsidiary of Parrot Group, drones can help farmers effectively monitor their crops. With a drone flying overhead, farmers can spot and quickly identify issues affecting their crops before those issues escalate into something larger. • Soil analysis: Another potential benefit of agricultural drones highlights their role in analyzing soil. Agricultural drones utilize complex mapping functions to gather data about the soil, including areas where it might be stressed. That enables farmers to develop accurate soil samples that can

local businesses” who donated equipment for the training sessions.

be used to guide decisions in regard to irrigation and fertilization. • Reduce waste: SenseFly notes that data gathered by drones can help farmers determine the vigor of their crops at various stages of growth. Such information can prevent overfertilization and overwatering, thereby reducing waste and runoff, benefitting the planet as a result. • Planning: Drones can be used to collect data on crop growth and health at various times throughout the growing season. That can help farmers develop accurate predictions regarding harvest quality and crop yield, making it easier for them to plan ahead. Agricultural drones are one of the many examples that illustrate how technology has changed and will continue to change the ways modern farmers conduct business.

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Profile for The Greeneville Sun

Benchmarks 2020 | Section C | Agriculture  

Published March 14-28, 2020, Benchmarks is a six-section annual edition of The Greeneville Sun, reflecting events of the preceding 12 months...

Benchmarks 2020 | Section C | Agriculture  

Published March 14-28, 2020, Benchmarks is a six-section annual edition of The Greeneville Sun, reflecting events of the preceding 12 months...