Sweetwater Valley Farm named 2012 Innovative Dairy Farmer of the Year

La QUINTA, Calif. — Sweetwater Valley Farm of Philadelphia, Tenn., was named the 2012 Innovative Dairy Farmer of the Year during a ceremony at the International Dairy Foods Association’s Dairy Forum in La Quinta, Calif.

Owners John and Celia Harrison received the award, which recognizes U.S. dairy producers that apply creativity, excellence and forward thinking to achieve greater on-farm productivity and improved milk marketing.

Farm details

Sweetwater Valley Farm includes a 1,000-cow dairy that will expand to 1,350 this spring, a small cheese factory, a retail store, a 5,000-square-foot event center called “The Udder Story” and farms tours that last year hosted nearly 13,000 visitors.

In a variety of ways, the Harrisons demonstrate innovation and creativity at the farm level and in marketing their products. The farm was the fourth dairy in the nation to install the AfiMilk system, which uses pedometers to track cow activity and detect when cows are in estrus. The system allows the Harrisons to plan breeding around the monitoring activity and operate with fewer people.

Waste management

A new waste management system, ready to come online this year, will allow the farm to recover all sand for re-use and segregate solids that can be used as fertilizer.

John Harrison estimates that the new system will virtually eliminate fertilizer purchases for the farm.

The farm’s cheesemaking operation annually produces 200,000 pounds of more than 25 cheese varieties, including Colby, aged cheddars and flavored cheeses.

“The Udder Story.”

Fielding frequent questions from store visitors about how cows are raised and how milk is made, the Harrisons recognized a great marketing opportunity that evolved into the “The Udder Story.”

This 5,000-square-foot event center, completed in 2010, is divided to leave open space for meetings, banquets and weddings. The other half houses displays that show how feed is grown, how farmers used to milk cows by hand and how technology has evolved to allow modern milking parlors and robotic milkers.

The farm also offer tours, charging visitors $6 per person to visit the feed center, freestall barns, the milking parlor and the maternity and calf care center.

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