The Tennessee Quality Milk Initiative began as the vision of a University of Tennessee faculty member wanting to improve the sustainability of dairy farms in Tennessee. In 1995, there were more than 1300 dairy farms in Tennessee. The number has now declined to less than 600, and this trend is similar across the Southern Region. Several factors have led to this massive decline, and challenges will continue to stress dairy producers and the dairy industry. However, the dairy industry in the South can survive if we strive to lower production costs and improve production. How can we do that? By improving milk quality!
Historically, milk quality in the Southern Region has been the poorest in the nation. According to 2005 DHI records1, the average somatic cell count for the Southern Region (AL, AR, FL, GA, KY, LA, MS, NC, OK, Puerto Rico, SC, TN, TX and VA) was 37 percent higher than the national average, 406,000 cells/ml and 296,000 cells/ml, respectively. In particular, Tennessee ranked last in national milk quality standings as the only state with a SCC over 500,000 cell/ml, and the state with the highest percentage of test days over 750,000 cells/ml. Poor milk quality in Tennessee and in the Southern Region has been and continues to be of concern. Decreased milk production, increased production and treatment costs, lost premiums and/or incurred penalties due to poor quality milk have had a significant financial impact on dairy producers. Furthermore, dairy producers are concerned about difficulties of sustaining competitive milk production as regulations and processor standards concerning quality milk are becoming more stringent. It is clear that milk quality in Tennessee and in the Southern Region must improve if the dairy industry is to survive. The consequences of doing nothing will result in many more dairy producers being forced out of business. The Tennessee Quality Milk Initiative was developed to enhance milk quality in Tennessee and in the Southern Region through education, research and outreach.
The objective of this program is to gather, develop, package and distribute the most comprehensive bilingual informational, educational and motivational material from academia and industry experts on the production of quality milk. The program will begin at the basic levels of knowledge and progress into more advanced understanding of milk quality. Subject matter will include the latest knowledge and technologies available. This material will be made available to everyone involved in the dairy industry through producer and industry meetings, this website, extension bulletins, posters, popular press articles, slide presentations and other relevant dairy publications. The University of Tennessee Agricultural Experiment Station and Extension Service want to partner with the agri-industries serving the dairy community to develop and deliver this message. Pharmaceutical companies, milking machine companies, farmer cooperatives, teat disinfectant manufacturers, practicing veterinarians, the dairy industry press and many other organizations all have something to offer and to gain from this effort.
A comprehensive analysis of bulk tank milk quality will be conducted on approximately 25% of Tennessee's dairy farms to determine the influence of bulk tank SCC on parameters of bulk tank milk quality including standard plate count, preliminary incubation count, lab pasteurized count and coliform count. Additionally, bulk tank milk samples will be screened for foodborne pathogens and for Mycoplasma species. Farms selected will be representative of the size and management styles typical for Tennessee dairy operations and will fall into one of three categories: high SCC (> 500,000 cells/ml), average SCC (251,000 – 400,000 cells/ml) or low SCC (<150,000 cells/ml).
Research and Demonstration
Small, average and large dairy farms producing high, average and poor quality milk (based on SCC and bulk tank milk quality obtained in aforementioned research) will be selected for on-farm demonstrations and research. A four-stage approach will be used: 1) pre-trial evaluation of dairy farm management practices and development of an objective mastitis control and milk quality plan, 2) implementation of the mastitis control and milk quality plan, 3) evaluation of the mastitis control and milk quality plan and 4) analysis of data and development of science-based educational and outreach materials. In addition to bulk tank milk evaluation, specific tests to identify mastitis pathogens will be conducted. Antimicrobial resistance/susceptibility of mastitis pathogens isolated from milk of cows with clinical mastitis against a battery of antibiotics used commonly in veterinary medicine will be conducted. The goal is to demonstrate that adoption of mastitis control and milk quality plans on different size farms with different quality milk and management styles will improve overall milk quality and be cost effective.
The Tennessee Quality Milk Initiative is a large project, with large goals and in need of significant funding. We believe that this project will enhance the quality and quantity of milk produced, improve farm profitability and play an important role in sustaining the dairy industry in Tennessee and in the Southern Region.
If you or your organization would like to play a role in this exciting adventure, please contact one of the Tennessee Quality Milk Initiative team members.