3 Southeast Dairy Events: Networks Working Together to Find Solutions

A Compilation of stories and news about 3 challenges affecting Southeast Dairy Producers:  Dean Foods, Maryland-Virginia and Piedmont

 Southeast Dairy:  In the News. Pushing Forward.
In the past two weeks, in a time of already depressed milk prices, there has been a three-fold challenge to dairy farms in the southeast.  Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, and North Carolina all have farmers affected, with varying degrees of uncertainty about their milk buyer futures.
To say these past days have been painful and a flurry of concern, high emotions, and rumor mills have resulted is an understatement, but yet, as the dust settles, some activity has encouraged some hope, and herd owners are beginning to look forward. Many are making decisions based on faith, and in a calm fashion based on what they believe best for their farm. Some of those farms are being public, while others are remaining cautious and quietly seeking answers behind the scenes.
Bright Spot? Yes!   One farmer asked if there was going to be any good news to share about this whole mess, and yes, actually, there are two:
First, phone calls, texts, and Social Media outcries have indicated loudly and clearly that consumers, government officials, fellow farm organizations, and economic development personnel are indeed concerned about preserving ‘local’ or ‘regional’ milk in their areas, and appear to be eager to learn how they can help accomplish that.
Hopefully, this newfound energy can be channeled for long-term purchases of local milk, from local farms.  Time will tell. Consumer outreach is going to have to continue.
The second is this:  We still have upwards of 40 herds (at least in TN) shipping to Dean. The company is still the largest volume buyer of ‘local’ milk in TN at its three plants.  Putting that in perspective, every Dean Direct herd in Indiana,  with the exception of one, received letters of notice. Several were herds well over 1000 cows.
Background:  The three part challenge:
1.) Dean Foods:  On Friday, March 2, news broke of upwards of 115 (tallies still underway) farmers in 8 states receiving 90-day termination notices of their supply agreements to Dean Foods plants.  10 Tennessee herds and 22-25 Kentucky herds were affected, with 25-27  in Indiana, 42 in Pennsylvania, 6 in the Carolinas, and a yet unknown number in New York.  Three plants in our area – at Athens, TN, Spartanburg, SC, and Louisville, KY are involved in the contract termination decisions.   Herd sizes in all states range from under 100 to 1000 cows; 20 Million pounds of Indiana milk will need to find a new home, or be removed from the already overabundant nationwide supply.
The herds involved were Dean Direct producers, meaning the farm itself had a purchase agreement with Dean Foods plants, instead of gaining access to the plant through a milk co-op. Farmers who were members of co-ops did not receive these termination letters.  All of this activity followed a Dean Foods Earnings Announcement on Monday, Feb. 26 in which the phrases such as ‘rescaling the supply line’ foretold of company wide cuts to come.
2.)  During:  the week prior to the Dean Foods announcement, rumors began to circulate that Piedmont Milk Producers, based in Blountville, TN and serving farms in TN, VA, and NC,  was restructuring their business. (Story below with a video link)
3.)  MD-VA Milk Cooperative with 1,500 members from Pennsylvania to Florida, and some in Kentucky and Tennessee, sent a Feb. 27th letter to all of its members that their advance milk payment checks, expected at the end of the month, would fall to levels of $12.62 cwt in FO 5 & 7, and $10 in FO 1 and $33. The company said it was working on financial restructuring and was renegotiating credit facilities. Over the weekend, sources have begun to indicate that the problems may have been resolved to some degree, but the company has not made any official announcements. With settlement checks expected within a couple of days, some direction will be known.
In the days since, there has been a flurry of activity following the first notices: meetings of  farmers, meetings of farmers and agribusiness personnel, meetings of dairy organizations, and frequent phone calls between many parties in positions to help chart a future course.  AgCentral has been busy assisting producers in a variety of ways in a three-state area. While we have yet to have a formal working group to address what can be done and how to approach a dairy future, a tremendous amount of contacts have been made information gathered.
Following is a “Digest” of some the best information available, in no particular order – stories mentioned include stories of the Watsons and the Stooksburys, as well as a couple of stories from Ohio which further outline the far-reaching affects of the Dean announcements:
1.) Dave Natzke, an experienced and respected dairy industry reporter, now with Progressive Dairyman, published a broad perspective view of the Dean Foods story, and puts it in context with the dairy industry and events across the country. In his article, Dave reports that the Walmart plant was originally announced as a $165 Million Dollar venture, and provides a glimpse into how the Walmart plant may source their milk.
2.) Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, reports with a focus on PA, where 42 herds lost Dean contractsShe notes hauling routes were a factor in terminated Pennsylvania herds, and reports the loss of a Food Lion contract, which was a factor which triggered a decision regarding 5 TN herds in Greene and Hamblen Counties.
From the article: “This affects all size herds and is not a large or small farm thing,” said [Reace] Smith, [of Dean Foods Corporate Communications.]  While she was unable to supply specific information about the farms that were terminated, she said the widespread volume adjustments at multiple plants across four Federal Orders was necessary do to the new Class I plant (Walmart) coming online this month and the loss of a contract through a competitive bidding process. (Food Lion).” 
It is the loss of that Food Lion contract, previously filled largely through a Carolina plant(s), which created a shift in milk hauling from plant to plant, and created an excess at the Dean/Pet plant at Spartanburg, SC, which had to be eliminated.  The milk from five (5) producers in Hamblen and Greene Counties in TN was being hauled to Spartanburg. Those producers are now searching for new markets or making decisions to sell cows.
Dewey Morgan, of the Daily Post-Athenian, in the hometown of the Mayfield plant,  cites these significant stats:
Regarding declining consumption and increased production: “Americans are drinking about 3 gallons less per person since 2010, and 11 gallons less than 1975, while every year, 350 Million more gallons of milk are produced than the year before.”
Amount of local milk: The Dean Foods plant in Athens ‘still sources 90% of our milk from Tennessee.’
The Watson Family: their stories on WVLT-TV and on the Knoxville News-Sentinel website:
The Watsons, who farm near Sweetwater, TN, were one of the southeast TN farms who received 90-day notices.  The senior generation is Robert and Rosemary Watson (mom and dad), who farm with their sons Josh and Caleb.  The family is known for being extremely generous members of their community.  Both Josh and Caleb have been featured in news stories in Knoxville, TN media:
  •  Josh: From WVLT-TV, a story and video clip: Josh states that he doesn’t entirely blame Dean Foods. He adds: “there’s a lot of jobs that revolve around the dairy – it will hurt them.”
  • Caleb: Both a video and a photo album have been posted at the Knoxville Sentinel website. Caleb notes the family will continue to look for a milk buyer, and will look at other options to diversify, he says they will survive.
  • Front Page: The Knoxville News Sentinel published a front page story featuring Caleb on Tuesday, March 13.
Piedmont considering new business structure and how the company operates: story on Knoxville WBIR-TV
  • Brant Stooksbury, and his father Brian in Jefferson County, currently ship their milk through Piedmont Milk Sales, with offices at Blountville, TN. Piedmont, who represents farms in Northeast TN, Virginia, and North Carolina (the great majority are in NC) is making business changes.
Farm & Dairy:  Provides additional details on  WalMart distibution
WKBN-TN at Waynesboro, Pennsylvania – a video story describing some of the trickle down effects.
Ongoing:  This story will continue to evolve over the next few weeks, and spring crop work is already cranking up.  We know this challenge is great, but this region has overcome challenges before: at this time 25 years ago, many of us were digging out from a record blizzard, and some went without power for days. 27 years ago, in February of 1991, 400 herds received notices of a Pet bankruptcy, and lost a month’s worth of milk payments, along with having to scramble to find new milk handlers – there were no 90-day notices.
No doubt, our dairy industry is changing, but we have proven we can survive.
P.S.   Rod Carmichael has scheduled a complete herd dispersal for April 27.  Please mark that date on your calendars and keep Rod and Donna in your thoughts.



The Faith of Billy Graham: Sowing Seeds in Fertile Soil for Everlasting Life

William Franklin (Billy) Graham. Son of a Dairy Farmer.

Man of God. Seeds of Life.


This past week, the world learned of the HomeGoing of the much beloved Reverend Billy Graham. His impact on humanity is much lauded, yet he, the man, remained humble, with all credit to his Heavenly Father for any of his success.

The impactful evangelist has proclaimed for several decades that faith and the Grace of God would lead him, and anyone who accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior, to a Heavenly home. He himself explained it this way:

“Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”

Graham, oft-described as the most influential religious leader of the 20th century, illustrated that while devout and fiercely true to his own faith, he could treat people of all religions with respect and kindness and sow seeds of peace and hope.

The Reverend Graham began life as the son of dairy farmer near Charlotte, NC.  And from the minute one steps on the grounds, The Billy Graham Library, only a few miles from the original Graham Brothers Farm, honors those agrarian roots.

An engaging display with animatronic cows immediately captures the attention of any visitor.   The ‘boss cow’ tells us that a young Billy Graham perfected his oratory skills by preaching to the cows while they were in the milk barn!  From that point on the Library is a walk through modern history, with exhibits devoted to how “America’s Pastor” was witness and influencer on world events of the 20th Century.

Favorite verses and parables, such as Phillipians 2:3, are on display throughout the Library on walls, and in exhibits.



The Parable of the Sower – Luke 8, NIV

The Parable of the Sower, one of the most often quoted of the Parables of Jesus Christ, inspired a breathtaking bronze statue which is the centerpiece of the main exhibit hall at the Library.  As the Library was being completed, Franklin Graham believed this parable illustrated his father’s ministry better than any other.  The design was brought to life by sculptor Tom White.


The Parable itself was considered so important to the Christian faith, it is found in three different Gospels:  Matthew 13: 1-23, Mark 4: 1-20, and Luke’s version, found in the NIV Bible, Chapter 8: verses 1-15 (also shared below:),

“After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him,and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.

While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable:

“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants.

Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”

When he said this, he called out, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

His disciples asked him what this parable meant. 10 He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that,

“‘though seeing, they may not see;
    though hearing, they may not understand.’

11 “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. 

12 Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. 14 The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.

15 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

How will WE live the Parable of the Sower?

It is up to us to determine the seeds we will sow as our legacies, and it is up to us to help cultivate fertile soil which will receive those seeds.  James 2: 14-17 is summed up with the last verse, “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”  

Therefore, these thoughts to contemplate:

If your own life, or your farm, or even your business or means of earning income is the place seeds are to grow, will it be a dirt path, rocky ground, thorns, or the good soil?

It takes both wonderful seeds and productive, fertile soil for a bountiful crop to grow – a healthy crop which nurtures mankind.

Will this year’s seeds be seeds of hope, or seeds which lead to destruction? In times of trouble, will your seeds be ones that still grow the Kingdom of Christ, and let your faith shine through?

Will this year’s seeds be seeds that lift others up, help others through hard times, or seeds that beat others down?

If they are good seeds, will they fall on fertile soil, or on unproductive dirt along the path, among thorns, or on rocky ground?

And if the word of God isn’t the foundation of actions by your conduct, or your farm, are you building a long-lasting foundation or one that will crumble?

Will your farm,  and your life, be a farm which hears the Word, understands it, and practices its teachings by example?

Will your farm, and your life, be an example that sows the milk of human kindness, and places your faith in an everlasting God, even in times of trials?


In this springtime of 2018, many seeds will be planted.  In this world of agriculture, there are many uncertainties, and in fact, much fear about “whose farm will be next to get heart breaking news?”   The agriculture consensus is that many farming operations may not make it through the year, and there is a dark undercurrent of  ‘who will survive?’

However, the Bible is the Book of Hope, and tells us in John 24 that even when something dies, a seed remains whose destiny is to grow  and create new hope, new fruit, new beginnings, and new life:

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

We in agriculture on farms of all sizes are going to have to dig deep in our faith, and in our actions, if we are to survive the rough waters ahead.

Billy Graham, the son of a humble dairy farmer, went on to be one of the Greatest Faith Leaders in recent centuries, with some even comparing him to the Apostle Paul.  In order to become that incredulous leader, he had to leave his dairy farm beginnings, and he had to trust and follow the call of God to do that.  The Bible, in Joshua 1:9,  tells us we too, can ‘be strong and courageous,’ and do that, even in the darkest of times.

Billy Graham’s faith roots began growth on a dairy farm. However, his seeds flourished only when they reached out to a faith-starved world.  May we see the Word he spoke of, and may we Hear the Word he proclaimed!

My prayers are that the world of agriculture, and indeed, the entire world, finds fortitude, hope, grace, and comfort in a Boundless Faith taught by Billy Graham. Son of a Dairy Farmer. A Giant Man of God, who sowed Seeds for an Everlasting Life.


Postscript: The author of this blog, a former dairy farmer, was blessed beyond measure to experience a profound visit to the Billy Graham Library a few summers ago.  She was accompanied by a wonderful friend, the wife of a current dairy farmer.   A visit to the Billy Graham Library is highly recommended to anyone who loves history, is of an agricultural background, or who is on their own faith journey.  Billy Graham was Christian, but his life’s message can be a bridge to all in search of deeper meaning of any faith.  

Mayfield: CEO Quality Award – Dean Food’s Top Honor built on TN-Southeast Farm-to-Table Dairy Heritage, Community Pride


(Athens, TN) –  Mayfield Dairy in Athens, TN is the recipient of the Dean Foods CEO Quality Award for ice cream for 2016.  This award is the company’s top honor, and Mayfield Dairy Farms was selected over Dean Foods’ nine-other ice cream plants after a rigorous, year-long judging process.

“We are delighted with Mayfield’s excellence in protecting quality from farm to table, and we’re proud to hold them up as an example,” stated Mr. Ralph Scozzafavo, CEO of Dean Foods.  “Dean Foods holds its plants to very high standards, making for particularly stiff competition surrounding this award,” he said.

Mayfield plants in the Southeast have a history of receiving Quality awards.  The Athens plant has previously received Excellence in Quality recognition in 2016, 2015, and 2014.  The Mayfield / Barber’s plant in Birmingham AL received the CEO’s Quality Award two years in a row for 2015 and 2014

If you’ve grown up in the south, especially if you’ve been involved with dairy farming in the Southeast, “Mayfield Dairy” is a name that immediately combines the elements of high quality, in-demand milk and ice cream, and how the demand generated by such a local dairy plant impacts farms and the agriculture economy in an area.  As Mayfield has grown in sales through the decades, so has the southeast dairy farm community achieved continually higher standards of quality in on-farm practices of animal care and welfare, along with sanitation and technology of equipment in milking barns.


The CEO Quality Award was presented to Mayfield Dairy management and employees in Athens on April 21, 2017 by Dean Foods CEO Ralph Scozzafava.


The Dean Foods CEO Quality Award is the culmination of an intensive assessment process. This year, five fluid milk plants and three ice cream plants, including Mayfield Dairy, were selected as Excellence in Quality Award winners based on multiple criteria such as Safe Quality Food (SQF) Program scores, training participation, and consumer complaint improvement.

Next, these eight plants were scrutinized further by Dean Foods’ senior leadership who took into account quality innovations, best practices, and the “quality culture” within the plant.  Mayfield Dairy emerged as the cream of the crop in the ice cream category.


“I could not be more thankful for the team here in Athens,” said Scott Watson, Plant Manager.  “The products we manufacture reach the tables of families throughout the southeast and our folks do an incredible job of assuring that our ice cream is consistent day in and day out for our customers.  In short, we get to make and distribute ice cream for a living, and it it doesn’t get much more fun than that!”


How does Mayfield stand in context with other dairy processing plants?

  1. Mayfield / Athens is one of 67 plants in the Dean Foods system, according to a 2015 article in Dairy Foods Magazine.  With revenues of over $8 Billion, Dean Foods collectively is the 2nd largest dairy food processor on the Dairy Foods Top 100 list, published this August by Dairy Foods magazine.  Summarized information about the companies on the Top 100 list, topped by Nestle, with revenues over $12 Billion, describes in more detail each of the top 100 companies.
  2. While Dean Foods has a branding footprint from coast-to-coast with DairyPure and TruMoo in some of their product lines (co-branded with time-honored regional brands), they are one of the largest supporters of LOCAL DAIRY COMMUNITIES, since each plant generally sources milk from dairy farms (many family-sized farm operations) within a close radius.
  3. In 2015, Dairy Foods Magazine published an article which related a broad-ranging description of the Athens plant complex, including some private label products,  its fluid and ice cream operations, and the quality priorities of the entire processing center.
  4. #47-225 and #47-131 – PLANT numbers are the key to knowing if your milk or ice cream brand may be processed and packaged at this award-winning plant in Athens!  To know if the milk or ice-cream you’re consuming is one of the brands or private labels processed at this award winning plant, check the Plant Code (mandated by law/regulation) found on each and every carton of dairy product processed here! The fluid plant number is #47-131, and the ice cream plant number is #47-225. The quality found at Mayfield Athens is the foundation of goodness for them all, and an indication you are supporting LOCAL farms in your area!
  5. Other southeast Dean Foods plants to watch for?   The code #01-0176 signals that an ice-cream product has been made at the Barber’s ice cream plant in Birmingham, AL, a previous winner of the CEO Quality Award.  #01-0104 signals that a fluid milk product is processed at the Dean – Barber’s plant,  also in Birmingham.  #13-230 is the code number meaning dairy products are from the Dean – Mayfield plant at Braselton, GA.   #45-01 is the Dean – Pet plant at Spartanburg, SC.   From Nashville, the Purity Dairies plant, known for award-winning chocolate milk, is #47-118, and the Country Delite plant, which processes a lot of private-label milks for independent grocery chains, carries the code #47-120.
  6. The local newspaper, the Daily-Post Athenian, just about a 1/2 mile away from the Athens plant, published a front-page report with photos of plant key personnel.


Mary Williams is the manager of the Mayfield Division of Dean Foods, which include the Mayfield Athens plant, a plant a Braselton, GA, and an ice-cream plant in Birmingham, AL, also known as Barber’s.  She also acknowledged the daily commitment and dedication of the Mayfield employees and associates which led to this quality award.


The brand MAYFIELD is much more than ‘a carton to pick-up’  to the ‘home folks’ in southeast Tennessee, and a wider southeast radius about 200 miles from the site of the original Athens plant.  MAYFIELD is the key to consumer shelf space at grocery stores, and therefore a LOCAL connector between dairy farm families and marketplace.  Those MAYFIELD cartons mean that area farms are able to pay bills, support their families and local churches, pay property taxes which support local governments, and are a driver for the southeast Ag Economy.

Mayfield employees and area dairy farmers are neighbors, sometimes cousins, sometimes husband and wife, and often go to the same churches.  To say this is a LOCAL DAIRY Community is an understatement; the bonds of history are deep, and wide, and strong.  All take mutual pride in the success of each other in various family, community, and business, and personal achievements.

The Agriculture community adds their “Congratulations” to the many already received by Mayfield.  Farmers also say “THANK YOU” to Dean Foods for supporting our neighborhoods and dairy futures.  Many farm young folks have committed to a future in the dairy industry by investments in milking barns and housing facilities for maximum animal welfare.  The continued support of Dean Foods will bolster those futures as young farmers aspire to help feed the world well into the future.

Here’s to more Mayfield awards in the future!