Dairy farmer Tim Mast proudly displays the new Tennessee Milk logo on his family’s Sunrise Dairy products. Likewise, he hopes consumers proudly place his Tennessee-made milk and ice cream in their shopping carts.
“I just hope that the logo will help people choose a local product that was produced and processed in Tennessee,” says Mast, who milks cows and processes dairy products with his family in Crossville.
In 2018, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture launched the legislation-enabled Tennessee Milk logo program, which identifies milk and dairy products entirely sourced and processed in Tennessee.
The logo provides a marketing opportunity for the state’s dairy farmers, who face dire industry challenges. In fact, Mast doesn’t recall milk prices being this low for this long in 30 years, and Tennessee has lost approximately 200 dairy farms in the last five years, according to Matthew Wade, farm laboratory director at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU).
Wade encourages consumers to add more milk to their diets – and buy local when they do.
“When consumers see the Tennessee Milk logo on any milk product, they can feel confident they are directly helping the Tennessee dairy farmer,” says Wade, whose university’s creamery was among the first adopters of the logo. “Every dollar is helping the Tennessee dairy farmer and gives them a leg up until we can get some things changed in our industry.”
Powell-based Weigel’s Farm stores today owns 67 convenience stores in East Tennessee, where the business sells upward of 40 dairy products made from local milk. Weigel’s sources 55,000 gallons of milk per week from only East Tennessee dairy farmers, and the Tennessee Milk logo will appear in 2019 on the dairy’s fluid milks, half-and-half, buttermilk and more.
The logo aligns with Weigel’s generations of commitment as a local dairy source that has sold to generations of local customers.
“We’re hoping to save Tennessee dairy farmers,” company chairman Bill Weigel says. “When you lose a farmer, the next generation loses out on the opportunity to carry on the family business.”
Wade agrees, also citing the industry’s $130 million economic impact in Tennessee.
“We have to understand that this is a multimillion- dollar industry for the state of Tennessee,” he says. “This is not just some farmers who are seeing some hard times and going by the wayside. This is a livelihood that is bringing tax dollars into the state.”
With milk from its dairy farm, MTSU serves campus cafeterias and food marts as well as 11 stores in local communities. Milk sales quickly doubled when the MTSU Creamery expanded in 2017 to include a bottling operation. Wade predicts sales may triple by mid- 2019 with the strong demand for locally bottled milk.
Similarly, the Masts expanded into processing in 2016 to stabilize income and allow room for more family in the business. Their farm produces about 19,000 gallons of milk per month from 90 cows, and processes about half of that into a variety of fluid milks, ice cream, butter, buttermilk and seasonal eggnog. They jumped at the opportunity to use the Tennessee Milk logo and became one of the first adopters in summer 2018.
“We felt like the logo was another tool to promote a local product that customers want,” Mast says. “I think the Tennessee Department of Agriculture has done a great job in helping Tennessee farmers and trying to keep Tennessee milk in Tennessee.”