As the global pandemic continues, the dairy industry is asking “What’s New?” the simplest answer is one word – “Coronavirus”. At this time, even though the majority of countries and businesses are still very much in the crisis management phase of COVID-19, some are already exploring how they can set themselves up on the right trajectory for growth as they come out the other side. Although it is very easy to fall prey to negativism, it might be both refreshing and forward-looking to actually consider the positive potential for what post-Covid dairying could look like.
In dairying, there are many variables that are beyond your control which makes it necessary to know what you’re aiming for and what you can actually do. Don’t wear yourself out trying to meet standards set by news headlines, neighbours or anti-Ag activists or unrealistic romanticism. Do what makes it possible for you to maintain your sweet spot during hard times. Don’t strive for excellence. When we clearly know what our plan is, we are not derailed by criticism. Do you need a home gym? A pool? New family computers? Others not walking in your shoes may criticize but you must make plans that make it possible for your business to continue to support you and your family … that means the children too!
New Dairy Org Chart
It is impossible to be a master of everything. Today dairy managers need to excel at screen time, as animal feeders, as animal breeders and animal doctors. Post-Covid the highest priority will be putting together new teams to efficiently and effectively handle all these special skills.
Post-Covid there will be new definitions for the collaborations between your dairy everyone else who provides support or derives payments for expertise, consulting or products. We need all that expertise but how will we get it? No more large group gatherings of 100s at trade shows or farm days. No more conflicting overlapping areas of expertise which waste time and cost money and have been excused by saying, “It’s the way we’ve always done it. We value lifestyle over profit.”
New Business or Old Lifestyle
Post-COVID it well be necessary to admit “Sustainable dairy farming isn’t all about the lifestyle”. You would find it hard to name any other relevant industry that professes to stay the same because of the “lifestyle”. Of course, there are very successful entrepreneurs who support their talents and hobbies through the companies they run. So back to 24/7 dairying. You can’t love the living but then continually ask for someone to “subsidize” it with financial support.
Speaking of support, this takes us one step further. Before, during and after COVID, the success of each dairy operation is impacted by every person working to produce products from milk. From ownership to staff to each on-farm provider, the need will be for openness and transparency in all communications in order for support to be relevant and ongoing. The entire staff fears for their futures, their health. Many don’t have savings to fall back on. They fear for their security. Hard conversations will be needed as entire dairy teams work through the challenges of COVID. Family. Employees. Suppliers. Who is entitled to draw their living from your lifestyle? What will be the difference post-COVID?
New Supply Chain Interaction
One post-COVID visible difference will be that there will be many more who work from home. In these first months, we’ve discovered that jobs no one thought could be done remotely can be handled very effectively with a laptop computer and video conferencing. At the other end of the spectrum, delivery service drivers have become essential to our new lifestyle. We still need police, firemen, pilots, and others to report to work. But many white-collar jobs that are now being done from home will remain there when the crisis passes. On the dairy farm, the winners will be dairy industry suppliers, who will continue to make the interactive business to farm processes easier. The post-COVID winners will be those suppliers and consultants that offer good prices, prompt delivery, and user-friendly websites that provide measurable value to the dairy operation. We could just hang on for now or we can use this time to make all interactions a more cohesive part of the dairy operation puzzle.
Unsurprisingly, dairy operations that were furthest along with their digital transformation journey before COVID-19 struck are tending to adapt to the crisis better than their peers. Their technically proficient business models and working processes meant that they were able to pivot more rapidly or accelerate changes already underway. This could lead to complacency or it could be seen as an opportunity to take the dairy to the next level. For some, this could mean turning to or expanding robotics.
The rise of robotics is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it improves productivity and reduces vulnerability to the impact a future pandemic could have on labor. On the other, it carries the fear of leaving people without work. Managing that crisis is an old dairy challenge that needs a new answer. We need to use technology to augment, not replace, people. Robotic technology can do more than simply feed and milk cows.
New Big Picture Planning
We need to reshape how we grow, transport, package and consume our food. Currently, our straight-line methods involve what some call take, make and waste. We need to find ways to decrease dependency on fossil-fuels and shorten the distance from producer-to-consumer. Continuing the agriculture commitment to mitigating the climate crisis and respecting and improving workers’ rights are part of the new perspective that is vital in order to build strength resiliency. When the urgent part of the crisis has been navigated, we need to go forward with a new commitment. Interesting ideas are easily accessible and provide an interactive discussion on blogs such as “Less Waster and More Value”)
New Perspective Combining Health For Herds And Humans
In the dairy industry, we have personal experience with biosecurity and how to handle it. Usually, our cows are the focus of the discussion. Today it is about controlling an epidemic as it strikes humans. What we really need to develop is how we anticipate, discover and act. Having the knowledge isn’t effective if we wait until it is too late to act. For example, we already are well aware that most major human infectious diseases have animal origins, and we continue to be bombarded by novel animal pathogens. Yet there is no ongoing systematic global effort to monitor for pathogens emerging from animals to humans. An ongoing systematic effort makes headway in describing and categorizing the diversity of microbial agents to which our species is exposed. We could characterize animal pathogens that might threaten us in the future. We could detect and control a local human emergence before it has a chance to spread globally. In other words, the pandemic has revealed the gaps in our current public health infrastructure. Will they still be there post-COVID?
New Financial Solutions
Getting a grasp on big picture philosophy is often difficult. It seems easier to move from big picture imagining to down to earth dollars. What will post-COVID dairy financing save, keep or throw away from the experience? It is always easy to cut expenses and weather through until a more normal economy reappears. However, some dairies are thinking of trying new solutions. They don’t intend to reinvent the wheel. Instead, they are looking at dairy dollars in a unique way. Weighing the cost of cost-cutting or expenses in terms of what the actual impact is? For example, culling on the basis of replacement cost alone does not consider the cost of poor fertility, high breeding costs and the labor costs incurred.
Dairying is well aware that governments are going to be stretched to their limits in providing fiscal and economic stimulus. At some point in time, the hope is that we will emerge from the crisis stage. At that point, governments – federal, state and local – will be faced with massive debt problems. There will be attempts, realistic or otherwise, to recoup and rebalance the books. Who will receive new benefits? Who will be a new pawn?
While we are always tempted to turn to self-protection, there are always new opportunities to find new ways forward and that could mean investing in new research. Post-COVID it will be valuable to collect and coordinate dairy data for the good of the entire industry. (Read more: “Opportunity Knocks! Will Dairy Answer?”) The goal is to keep successful new genetics and new innovations going over the long term.
As we live through the growing reality of Covid-19, we see governments with wealth turn to prop up their own economies as the developing world sinks into chaos. New rules and new restrictions are mounting as each country protects themselves and keeps their money at home. At first, this protectionist attitude seems profitable but it eventually begs the new question, “Who is buying our products?” “Who is making our products?” An editorial in Western Producer sums it up this way, “Jumping off the globalization bandwagon will forfeit international advantages created by economies of scale, such as prairie agricultural, the advantage of the developing world in labour and manufacturing as well as incentives for international investment, which mitigate risk from all perils including disease. (Western Producer editorial published June 18, 2020). Will we see a coordinated global response or will we create more division, competition and a growing mountain of regulations?
“We are balancing between amazing acts of courage and heroism as our frontline healthcare providers lean in to take care of people across the nation and the world” says Kimberly MacPherson, teaching fellow at the Haas School of Business. At the same time, there are those who say “in a lot of ways my life has not changed all that much.” Unfortunately, there are many more who are not so blessed. Now and post-COVID we need to open our eyes and ears to those who need unselfish, hard-working leadership, sharing and humanity. These describe the dairy industry people and food producers. That is why people have not been forced to stay home for three months and produce their own food. Heroes do what they do best and don’t stop until the job is done.
The Bullvine Bottom Line
Post- COVID the new hope is that all dairy producers understand that we all need to work together. One country cannot survive without the others. Producers cannot survive without consumers and everyone in between. We will find what is new, when we are proactive and create an intentional preparedness plan for a new dairy future.