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Leading the Way for Southeastern Dairies

The Southeast’s dairy industry has faced many challenges over the past several decades, and the number of dairy farm numbers across the region has fallen to historic lows. Fewer than 2,000 are operating, with many teetering on the edge of profitability. In an effort to help local producers survive economically, as well as to keep their beloved dairy products available to consumers, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture has formed the Center for Dairy Advancement and Sustainability (CDAS).

While the CDAS has been “open” for several months, now is the perfect time to highlight the center’s operations and goals as the nation begins celebrations for June Dairy Month.

The new center is led by Liz Eckelkamp, associate professor of animal science and Extension Dairy specialist. Eckelkamp has been the successful director of the Southest Dairy Business Innovation Initiative since 2020, which is a USDA-funded effort to revitalize the regional dairy industry through value-added products. The new CDAS will help with that and more. It is expected to be a hub of research, extension, and teaching with the goal of providing Real. Life. Solutions.™ to the Southeast dairy industry. Building on SDBII as well as additional funding, the CDAS is set to position UTIA as leader in innovative dairy solutions for both large and small ruminants, for example dairy cows and goats.

Eckelkamp, who also coordinates and provides curricula for the Tennessee Master Dairy Program (utdairy.tennessee.edu/master-dairy), says dairy farmers in the Southeast are faced with high costs of production. “On average they lose $6 for every hundred pounds of milk they sell commercially. In the face of these elevated costs and to thin negative profit margins, producers and processors must find alternative ways to remain in business and support their families, employees and communities,” she stresses. “The CDAS will focus on facing these challenges head on through alternatives revenue sources such as farmstead creameries, alternative inputs such as non-traditional forages, technologies to reduce labor costs and access issues, marketing and outreach tools and leadership training for existing dairy businesses.”

Center members consist of UTIA and other UT Knoxville faculty with the expertise to support the advancement and sustainability of the dairy industry through a dairy systems approach that includes topics under the areas of animal husbandry, precision dairy technologies, dairy foods, labor management, leadership, marketing, branding, and small business economics. Eckelkamp says, “We envision establishing UTIA as a leader in dairy precision technology and alternative income strategies addressing the needs of farmers, processors and producer/processors through Extension, research and teaching with University and industry synergistic partnerships.”

To raise awareness and grow the industry, CDAS will also provide opportunities to students through internships, conference travel, and research experiences. Center members will also have the opportunity to apply for seed grant funding through CDAS to answer pressing questions for the dairy industry.

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