Milksheds 101 – A Primer about a “Cow”mplicated Topic



A MILKSHED – just exactly what is it?

For the purposes of  this blog, a ‘milkshed’ is all of the factors and people related to bringing milk to a consumer.  Those factors include:

  1. Cows, mainly, but sometimes other mammals such as goats, sheep, water buffalo, or camels.  In my view, nut-based and plant-based beverages are not part of a true milkshed; they belong in a faux-milkshed.  However, I will freely acknowledge that sometimes allergies to mammalian milks necessitate the existence of the milk-alternative beverages.
  2. Farms and crops and feed for cows (Some farms have cows, some farms grow feed for others who have the cows.  Sometimes a farm does all of that, but often not in today’s world.)
  3. Farmers (farm families, farm managers, and farm workers)
  4. Agribusiness, livestock supply, farm supply companies, and veterinarians: those who provide products and services that farms need to stay in business
  5. Milk Handlers (milk brokers, co-ops, or farm owners /individuals) – those responsible for selling milk from farms to milk plants
  6. Transport systems – responsible for delivery of milk from farm to plant – includes trucking companies, and those who drive the trucks, those who service those trucks
  7. Milk processing plants – safety labs, quality control labs,  equipment, assembly lines, and some very expensive and very sanitary equipment.
  8. Distribution networks – from the milk plant to retail outlets such as stores, restaurants, or ice cream trucks!  Sometimes, depending on shelf-life of the product, warehouses and then to retailers or restaurants.
  9. Retailers – Groceries, restaurants, fast-food chains, convenience stores, caterers, ice cream parlors, cheese-mongerers, etc.
  10. REGULATIONS!  And again REGULATIONS!  Did you know the dairy industry is one of the most heavily regulated industries in the world?  At every step of the way, from farmer to retailer, there are volumes and volumes of local, state, federal, and in some cases, international regulations.
  11. LAWS and legal events:  Along with regulations, many local, state,  federal, and again, international laws touch that tall, cold, glass of milk.
  12. The consumer- the person who drinks a glass of milk or kefir, enjoys yogurt for breakfast, or eats a big bowl of ice cream as part of a celebration.  THANK YOU, to each and every consumer and afficionado of milk everywhere!

At every level of that milkshed – there are people, and jobs.  And those who supply  equipment and services for every level of the dozen steps of a milkshed above. (Really, there may be way more than a dozen – this is just how it worked out at this writing.)  Some of those people know only one level or niche of a milkshed, while others know and have experienced several aspects of a milkshed. Those who have ‘been there and done it’ are the ones I trust the most with accurate information about a complicated industry.

There are those who milk the cows, the farm families who live and manage the farm business (and it is a business), the milk fieldmen and fieldwomen who connect the milk plant or milk company and their quality standards with the farm,  writers and media folks who communicate to the public and within the different levels of the milkshed about industry events, farm kids, youth, college students and professors, and business executives – and more! Well, you get the picture – at least the start.

100 years ago, a milkshed was often as close as the backyard shed when the family cow was kept in a lot not far from the back door. Almost every residence had one cow.  If they didn’t have a cow, there was a nearby creamery, but the consumer pretty much knew where the cows and farms were that supplied that creamery.  Today, we live in a national or global milkshed that runs from coast-to-coast, and then around the world.

I am based in East Tennessee, but travel across the Southeast, so that is the local/regional milkshed with which I’m most familiar. However, my working knowledge and travel expands to a much wider base, from coast-to-coast, and border-to-border, and even ‘across the pond’ just a bit.

Those are the basics, but the reality is a Milkshed is much more complicated and intertwined than the very simplified explanation you see on this page.  Feel free to ask questions about anything milk!  Many of the answers I will know, some I will have to bring others in on, and some questions – well, answers may still be needed, just as answers are still needed for a lot of life issues.

I hope you enjoy the journey with me!


The GE Crop Report: Feeding the World, Safe Science

May 17th was just yesterday, but it is a yesterday that will go down in history as a day that has monumental implications for farmers, agribusiness, food, food producers, food companies, and  consumers.

The Committee on Genetically Engineered Crops: Past Experience and Future Prospects, a group of world-renowned scientists and sociologists organized by the National Academy of Sciences,  announced the results of the most comprehensive study and analysis ever completed on Genetically Engineered (GE) and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO).

Their conclusion: “the study committee found no substantiated evidence of a difference in risks to human health between currently commercialized genetically engineered (GE) crops and conventionally bred crops, nor did it find conclusive cause-and-effect evidence of environmental problems from the GE crops.”


The committee announced their findings in a webcast, launched a website, and published a 420-page report. (find links to the webcast and the report at the website).  It will take quite some time to sift through all of that information, so there will be more reports and posts forthcoming. As one whose family farm is a row-crop operation, this report affects me directly as a grower, directly as an agriculture / food communicator, and directly as a consumer.

From watching the webcast, one of the things that most impressed me was that in the course of their work, the committee directly reached out to groups (deniers, some will call them) opposed to and fearful of this science which has been practiced since the 1990s. Organizations and individuals were asked to bring their questions, cite their studies, and have them evaluated during the process.  It was determined, based on scientific protocols, that much of the ‘fears’ are based on false science, and procedure not-in-keeping with world accepted protocol, which has served us well for decades. More on that later.

But for now, I will share some photos and links, as well as the four pages of the brief.  That is enough to get started on this journey of ‘feeding the world – together, based on science.”

First,  I would like to thank the Committee and its Chair, Dr. Fred Gould, of North Carolina State University. Dr. Gould moderated the webcast.6729_NAS_GE_Report_Gould_AgCentral_F

Dr. Gould stated the many factors that had gone into the committee’s conclusion:  GMOs are not Harmful to Human Health (Thanks, USA Today, for the headline & story!):


One of the things that caught my eye was this graph displayed during the webcast, which outlined the layers of information processing used by consumers as they form their opinions of GMO science.


And for now, I’ll leave you with the four pages of the ‘brief report.’  This will be a good starting point for discussions to come.








(All credit for the 4-page report goes to the Committee on GE Crops, NAS).

The subject matter discussed yesterday included the emerging science of ‘omics,’ (genomic, proteomics, and much more).  We’ll get to that later, but for now, here’s the homework for the minute.