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Sweetwater Valley Farm

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Tennessee dairy farmer prioritizes care for livestock, land and environment

06.23.21

Education and transparency are important facets of Sweetwater Valley Farm in Philadelphia, Tennessee.

The diversified operation owned by John Harrison and his family is home to 1,500 dairy cows, several hundred beef cattle, and produces row crops in addition to farmstead cheese. It also features a 5,000 square foot event and educational center that allows visitors from across the country to learn about the operation’s history, what they do and why they do it.

Over the years, Sweetwater Valley Farm has adopted environmentally conscious practices, which include recycling waste to use as fertilizer for row crops (eliminating the need for commercial fertilizers) and installing solar panels to put electricity back on the grid.

“I want to be carbon sensitive, and I think that most farmers do,” John explains. “Farmers want to leave the farm as well or better than they found it.”

For John and his team, moving toward a more carbon-neutral operation also means adopting new practices that help make his herd more productive and efficient because “a highly effective operation has less of a carbon impact.”

That means continually seeking ways to gather better data from his dairy cows. In recent years, Sweetwater Valley Farm became Tennessee’s first user of the Lely XL robotic milking system.

“The robotic technology is a free-flow system, so we train cows to use the technology,” John says. “What it really does is give the cow more freedom to do what she wants to do. So, we’ll milk when she wants to milk, feed when she wants to feed, and rest when she wants to rest.”