“The Changes We Faced in 2019 Raised New Questions and New Answers!”
We’ve started into a New Year with all the anticipation that readers of The Bullvine bring to the dairy industry. At The Bullvine we enjoy this retrospective look at the top trends that you have brought to our attention.
To start off, we invite you to join us in using this opportunity to identify and discuss three trends that are becoming dairy industry truths:
- The Dairy Industry Must Identify Friends and Enemies.
- Sometimes We Are Our Own Worst Enemies!
- Everyone Wants a Piece of the Dairy Farm!
In 2019 we became even more familiar with news stories that opened with who we love to hate. Unfortunately, dairy farmers often felt that they had landed in that negative category. The very fact that we are producing a food product, means that we directly impact the personal health, family health and social lives of our customers. Sometimes our intentions and methods are questioned. The mistake on both sides happens when we reduce everything to a popularity contest. As dairy producers we want consumers to enjoy delicious healthy food. We need to establish trust or restore it, if it has been lost. If we can manage to be kind first and be right later, we can make good progress at turning frenemies at the farm gate into friends in the food aisle.
Economics, politics and poor business decisions are the excuses we give when dairy dollars are going down the drain. Assigning blame is the knee jerk reaction whenever dairy sustainability is challenged. We need to ask the tough second questions. What is at the root of a dairy industry that faces the onslaught of multiple challenges. Unfortunately, with all our knowledge, data and assessment processes, we are turning a blind eye to the biggest asset that we have available to us. It only makes sense that to survive into the future, we need leaders, managers and owners to take on those roles with conviction. A future industry must have people. Without a doubt, those people are the next generation of young dairy entrepreneurs. The take home message is that we can’t have a future dairy industry, without the input of young dairy people.
Sometimes being in the spotlight isn’t rewarding or glamorous. When the eyes of consumers become more critical than supportive, it throws into question generations of pride in the dairy industry. From the working level as seen by the the farmer managing machines, milking cows and raising calves, those on the front lines that dairy farming isn’t as simple as it looks from a drive-by viewing. It is easy to find fault. The facts show that it is hard to provide food. They also show that it is being done successfully. Today Canadian farmers feed 120 and supply products to 150 other countries. Farmers in the United States feed 155. Food production has big needs. We need to recognize the challenges and successes. Recognition must start by moving beyond past measurements and romanticized visions of the family farm. Will consumers ever understand the enormity of that problem or will they continue to turn their support toward sensational headlines and away from the food producers?
Having identified some of the issues which are attacking the dairy industry, those who remain must take a serious look at where they fit in. In 2019 this raised more questions.
Is it time to quit?
Is it time for more women in leadership?
Is it time to use robots?
Our seventh Editor’s Choice in our year of facing the tough questions is “Is it time to quit dairy farming”. Although it may seem pointless to make endless lists of questions, failing to answer them means just that … failing. You don’t have to answer questions. The flip side of that decision is that you also don’t have to stay in business. Either way, taking action is the answer. We can be justifiably proud of our dairy history even as we recognize that the way forward will always hold new issues, challenges and opportunities. We must take big risks if we would reap bigger rewards. The time has come to start something new, with people who will stop at nothing to achieve it. That is the business of dairy farming.
There are many things in the world of business that don’t transfer smoothly when you try making them work in the business of dairying. One of those areas is women in the Board Room. In areas outside of agriculture the commitment to woman in the workplace has seen more dramatic changes. “Since 2015, commitment to gender diversity has risen significantly.” For more information, see womenintheworkplace.com. Closer to home, when we look at the dairy industry, we applaud the women who step into managing the family farm but the question remains, “Why are there so few women in the boardroom?” Can we answer honestly?
Everyone chimes in on what size farms should be. Sometimes it is a contentious issue. Having even a distant connection to the farm, tends to make us want the small, gentle and familiar ways to remain. But that is unrealistic. Evolving with the times has always been part of dairy farming history. Today technology is in our cars, our schools and our churches. Readers of The Bullvine have made technology part of their every day life. Using economies of scale, large dairy farms are turning to robots. Even if you don’t milk five hundred cows, there are ways that robotics can support your place in the dairy industry. The future means adapting to change.
At The Bullvine we are constantly put in a position of being able to witness the clever, creative and even courageous ways that the dairy industry proactively meets the challenge of changing.
Genetic Change Dairy Sire Selection
Cooperative Change: Align, Merge or Die
Change One Thing: Change Cow Structure
Change the Ideal Cow
Ninety percent of the genetic progress that can be made in a herd comes from the sires used. Just as there are no perfect sires, there is no perfect index that will place the correct emphasis on functions, fertility and health for an individual farm’s breeding program. Progressive breeders need to determine where their herd needs improvement for traits beyond production and type. Changing sires isn’t like changing tires. Profitability and longevity require a prioritized overhaul that looks at customizing the priorities used to make sire selection decisions.
Decision making and prioritizing are not restricted to dairy owners and managers only. Everyone drawing from the financial pot of a dairy farm needs to accept responsibility and accountability for the long term sustainability of that dairy herd. Is your cooperative ahead of the challenges or falling behind? Private companies will take on whatever services cooperative ignore. Dairy farmers need to stop being silent. They must demand dynamic progressive service by their leaders.
Current Holstein breed ideals and standards for rump structure and the emphasis placed on rumps in the type classification programs are only of quite limited value for most herds. Outside rump appearance bears little value in predicting calving ease, longevity and fertility. Conformation evaluations need to include the functioning of the body part and not simply the appearance. Rumps could be a good place for breeds to start in revamping their type classification programs in order to remain relevant to tomorrow dairy farmers’ needs.
And so our looking back must inevitably lead to where we should be going in the future. The good old days provide stories but a sustainable dairy herd must be profitable. Have you recently heard a dairy cattle breeder speak or write about how cows used to last until they were ten years old and that today cows are one lactation wonders? Should Bullvine readers accept this perception as fact? For sure yesterday’s cows got us here… Definitely, tomorrow’s cows will be different. In the future cows will function trouble free for many years in large groups on automated farms. They will live in a multitude of environments and will need to be able to produce a high volume of milk solids. They will efficiently covert non-human food to milk. And genetic selection will turn on net returns over a lifetime and how body parts function most effectively. Will your herd find its place in the future?
The Bullvine Bottom Line
No one wants to look back and wonder if they could have done better. There are no sure things or easy answers. It all depends on you and whether you will take action or not. Here at The Bullvine we are committed to providing information, support and encouragement for each one of you. Keep on changing, evolving and asking for the best information available so that you can make decisions that make a difference. Best wishes for an active and reward 2020 and beyond.