Powell-based Weigel’s is leading the way in support of area dairy farmers by pledging to use milk produced exclusively in Tennessee.
Bill Weigel said it’s crucial to support local farmers. “If they can’t sell the milk, they can’t make it.”
With 67 locations throughout East Tennessee, Weigel’s sells more than 2.5 million gallons of Tennessee milk each year. The company was among the first in the region to distribute pasteurized milk.
“We sell our own milk through our own stores,” said Weigel. This policy allows quick turnaround and control from cow to consumer. Weigel’s receives milk at 3 a.m. daily, even on weekends. The milk is processed, bottled and shipped to stores that morning. Weigel said his company processes 50,000 gallons of milk each week.
Other dairies committed to using the new Tennessee Milk logo are Middle Tennessee State University Creamery, Sunrise Dairy, Hatcher Family Dairy and G & G Family Dairy.
State Commissioner of Agriculture Dr. Charlie Hatcher, a 10th-generation farmer, said he hopes others will join. “This is a big deal.” Every part of agriculture is suffering, but the dairy industry has been hit hardest.
Hatcher said Gov. Bill Lee has set rural economic development as a priority. “We will stand behind Tennessee farmers and producers.”
Ann Shipley and her daughter, Beth, represented Hickory Corner Dairy, Weigel’s largest supplier. Beth Shipley said her Claiborne County farm milks 700 Holsteins. Left behind to “do the work” were father Jim Shipley and brother William.
Bill Weigel said point-of-purchase signage already contains the Tennessee Milk logo. And the logo will soon be added to all Weigel’s milk. Keith Harrison, assistant ag commissioner, said Bill Weigel actually helped design that logo.
State Sen. Frank Niceley (Strawberry Plains) and state Rep. Jeremy Faison (Cosby) attended Friday’s press briefing. Both sponsored legislation to create the Tennessee Milk program. “The end game is everybody wanting to drink Tennessee milk,” said Niceley. And he managed a partisan dig: “Obama cut milk in schools back to 1 percent (milk fat) and took out chocolate. Trump has us back to 2 percent.” Niceley is drafting legislation to allow whole milk in the state’s schools.
Weigel’s executives handed out cow bells and milk to guests. “Bring more chocolate,” said Bill Weigel. He then led a toast to dairy farmers. The state has 204 cow dairy farms and approximately 31,000 dairy cows, goats and sheep.