Change is all around. You can see it, hear it, feel it. How do you deal with it? In particular, how do you deal with change on your dairy, and what role does technology play in the future of your business?
Change is something you may be dreaming of or you may be dreading. You cannot pick up a magazine or go online without being inundated with ideas of what you can do differently for your dairy business. Everyone (it seems) around you is making big changes and technology appears to be a part of that. You believe that people are happy with their decisions; they must be as more people are following the lead. How do you know what kind of change is right for your farm’s business model?
Reflect and Analyze
Before making any major decisions for your dairy, what thoughts are going through your head as you read about all that is available for today’s farm enterprise, and not just for your community but globally. You can find out what is happening in any dairy community at the tip of your finger with a smartphone. The accuracy is a topic for another day.
What aspect of change do you like? What appeals to you? Perhaps more importantly, what aspect of staying the same appeals to you. (I believe that this question is not asked enough.) These are difficult questions for each of us and made more challenging by bringing together a group or team. I recognize that dairy farms are businesses, but I have witnessed decisions that do not reflect the best business decision. One common theme we all have is that we like things to work as they should and many of us like it when things are easy, particularly when running a business and managing people and animals. This is easier said than done and regardless of how easy we try to make each days’ work schedule, events happen in people’s lives that can add a layer of complexity. How do we set up the business to absorb the complexities and continue to run the business achieving daily, weekly, annual or seasonal goals? Many of the goals reflect production; production of milk or butterfat including production of feed to produce milk. As the consumer is further from agriculture, it is important to have health and welfare goals for animals. We cannot assume the consumer trusts us; we must proactively promote our care of all farmed animals.
While the care of animals is extremely important, so is the working environment for people, we too must take care of everyone working on the farm. For most of the dairy farm businesses in the world, they are family businesses and I do not believe these worlds are kept separate. They are very much integrated. I believe that if someone is dealing with issues in either world, they are exceptional if they can leave them behind. When looking at change, can the change that is available, allow us to be with family more or allow us to move on and be on our own. While family is important, families do not always work well together. Can change provide the freedom to separate, if that is best for the family well-being and business?
The Role of Technology
Technology has infiltrated our lives in ways that we could have never imagined. It is here and we are not going back; computer scientists and engineers are determining our future, one code at a time. Who would have thought milking robots would be 25 to 30% of the installed Dutch farms in the Netherlands and 77% of the new installations or retrofits in 2021?
It is no secret that the Dutch have a significant influence in agriculture and especially in dairy–felt in many regions in the world. In working with Dutch farmers, they influence the regions that they move to. As they like to work efficiently, you see the influence that they bring regarding technology. There are many other farm cultures that reflect this, but the Dutch culture is one that I have experienced repeatedly throughout my travels. In adopting technology, I do find that they do not slow down, they continue to begin their day at a similar time as before adding technology. They look for it to do more with less hired help or to allow them to take hours during the day and divert from previous tasks (labour based) to new ones (data entry, monitoring to support management decisions). For the large-scale farms, technology must be simple to use and maintain. Regardless of the owners and managers of large-scale farms, the technology fits into new routines and cannot take away the efficiencies of existing routines. While all size of farms benefit from efficiencies, large-scale tend to have people in charge of divisions so that each division can focus on a change. The smaller the farm, the owner/manager needs to pick an area that they will focus on, there is only so much that each person can focus on. All sizes of farms matter, it is appreciating what each size is capable of focusing on that is one difference.
When considering a technology change for your farm or a division of your business, can you talk yourself through as to what that change means to you? When you identify people that are happy with technology can you formulate questions that you would like to ask them? Was it easy to change, and if so why? What were the processes or the people that were involved to make it easy, or what was missing that led to it being difficult and taking longer than you wanted it to?
When evaluating new ideas or products that would be great for your business, are you asking yourself a very important question: am I able to change my thinking to bring that idea or product into my business model? Can I accept what I need to do in order for it to bring the value that I was told it could bring? Does the idea or product come with people who can help me to change my thinking, who can help me to put it into a daily routine? What other technology do I need to adapt to in order to learn and change the hardest part of your life: your thinking.
The past two years have pushed forward virtual support. While in-person and face-to-face is the rural community’s preferred choice, technology for those of us giving support does allow us to continue. Does the business that you would like to buy the product from or adopt the idea from provide people to review what you are doing and make suggestions? Are they a text or Zoom call away for clarification? So many ideas and products work well when they are supported and small misunderstandings are clarified before they become bigger ones and frustration sets in.
Much of what we do is still about people. Technology should reduce the number of people in your business; or grow the productivity per labour unit. However, it requires other types of people with skill sets new to us to be a part of our lives. Technicians are key to making sure an idea is implemented and maintained. Support staff that work in the world between technicians and users are more and more critical. Consumables that worked well before in older style equipment, may need to be changed and those supporting consumables must now come with a basic level of knowledge of the new technology. Sensors providing data on animal behaviour now cross over into the genetics world, the veterinarian’s world and how will everything be communicated so that they understand and support your business.
When investigating, create a list of questions to ask after the typical “how does it work” questions. For example, ask your partner in life or business what you are good at, and what do you dislike doing? Dig in and find out how much of what you don’t like (or are not very good at) is involved, and understand what your options are for getting it done and done well. Will there be a cost for you that your neighbour does not have because she assumes it in her own labour. If you hate computers, software and anything to do with it, who from the company selling the technology will get you set up to work in “your way”.
The Emotional Cycle of Change
Focus on the change: what is needed to implement it, including support to help you change your thinking? This whole process is called the Emotional Cycle of Change and as you become aware of it, you will see many people follow a pattern as seen in this graph.
In the process if you discover the technology or idea is not for you, it is better to understand this before a significant investment. During stage 2, informed pessimism, you should identify the areas that your system needs support to change or the change is not right for the culture of your system. When you do implement the new idea or technology, there can be or most likely will be that valley, even if it starts off well, there are typically deviations of it working as it should or as you thought it should. We cannot trust our memories, many people forget about this so don’t ask people about their change after a year or more, many do not remember what it was really like. It is best to ask them during the change or as close to after it as possible. This is not to scare you; this is to allow you the opportunity to make a list of things that you need to do to put systems in place to minimize the Valley of Despair and pull out and work towards the success of your goals. What one person could handle and accept as the normal process of change, may frustrate you to a greater degree.
Always visit farms that look like yours or farms that you aspire to be like. For example, young families with or without an older generation helping. Farms with custom work versus no custom work. Farms with lots of high school students available while others very few. Farms that focus on high quality forage versus farms that do not have the soil, weather or equipment to achieve the highest quality advisors would like to work with. Farms with someone that has mechanical training or naturally fixes equipment versus a farm that does not have this person. Farms where they made changes because they love cows and want to keep dairy farming versus farms where generally people are not cow-focused and made changes to get out of the barn sooner. All farms have strengths and weaknesses. What is important is that you understand how change will be good for you, your family and your business model.