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Despite market challenges, young Sullivan County farmer excited to carry on family legacy

John King

Walmart has announced it will no longer carry Mayfield Milk from East Tennessee in its store, as the company is now following through with a plan to internalize dairy production.

Independent farmers are finding it increasingly harder to survive, while the workforce continues to grow older.

But John King, 27, is excited to stay in the industry and carry on his family's legacy.

"I told my dad when I graduated high school, that was in 2009 which was the first little ruffle we had in the dairy industry, he said, 'son, this is a bad time, I don't encourage to you to farm.' And I said, 'well as long as you're going to farm, I'm going to farm,'" King said.

The Kings have been on the same piece of land in Piney Flats since 1778. John King is an eighth generation dairy farmer, and hopes to one day pass the farm on to the ninth generation.

But that's getting harder. With corporations, like Walmart, centralizing milk production, independent dairy farmers have fewer places to sell their product.

Still, King has never wavered. He knows where he belongs.

"I guess it's just a farming thing," King said. "You just learn to survive, you take the blows and keep on going."

King's decision truly is rare. The last census of farmers in 2012 put the average age at just over 58.

"You encourage them, but you also have to help them be cautious of what they're doing; know the risk of what they're getting into," John Hamrick, a UT extension agent, said.

The risk pales in comparison to the weight of a 200 year legacy.


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