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The Future Of Dairying Is Uncertain!!

You are committed to dairying. You have recognized that changing markets and rising demand for milk, means you will have to expand, specialize or exit. You’re staring at a future that is looming with complications from genetics to finances, and you are not entirely sure which direction you should be headed in. Suddenly an unforeseen challenge is right on your doorstop, and it could mean disaster for everything you have invested in your dairy business.  You thought things were fine.  That’s what “they” have been telling you.  You can’t be blamed for asking, “Why didn’t we see this coming?”

Stuck in the “If only Rut” While the Future is Bearing Down Fast

If only the economy would turn around.  If only government would give us support and protect our markets. If only the consumer would understand that producers are part of their team too!  If only we had unconditional support from the membership.  Oh yes…. And it would be great “If only we had the right people leading us?  You know the ones.  People we like.  So we don’t have to deal with personalities, politics and publicity.”  Yes, the if-only rut is a deep one and very hard to dig yourself out of, once you have given all responsibility for change to someone or something else!  If only that worked!  But … it doesn’t.

Who Is Representing YOU?

Sometimes it seems like the rest of the world continually underappreciates the hard work, planning and vision of modern dairy farmers.  Part of the reason for this is that they are not supported with that same focus and energy when it comes to their boards, suppliers and associations. That is too bad because they impact our long-term viability as an industry.  Take, for example, your breed association, milk recording agency or cooperative AI stud.  You have just read the newsletter where they voted in a direction that has nothing to do with actually supporting your dairy objectives.  Not surprising since the board itself is grossly under-represented by progressive dairy operators who are hands on and in tune with modern dairy growth. In fact, the business agenda hasn’t changed in thirty years.  And neither has the makeup of boards.  They are entirely missing the issues that are well beyond the writing on the wall stage.

Why Aren’t Dairy Associations Relevant To Modern Dairying?

Boards who move industries or associations or dairy operations realize that if great work is going to get done they will have to do it.  However, that takes long term vision, and it is difficult to rock the boat and chance finding yourself out of work. Currently – too many decisions are made that keep people in their jobs and have less to do with making the dairy industry profitable. When it becomes a choice between keeping a grant, maintaining the interests of a major financial supporter or putting some other agenda ahead of the actual dairy operators’ needs, it’s easily seen who wins out. Furthermore, too many dairy co-ops or board decision makers don’t work entirely on farm and see what they do as a perk or supplement or cushion for retirement.  Too often this means they are not motivated to carry out the hard decision making that forward progress always requires.

Who is Serving?  Who is Hiding?

If the boards, associations and suppliers are actually serving the industry they must be comprised of the people who understand what it takes to be sustainable and profitable in the dairy industry.  All sectors of the industry – commercial, show type breeding, purebred – must, at the end of the day, be both profitable and sustainable. We have all been at industry meetings, where the folks at the front of the room said all the right words about where the industry needs to be, but there is always one thing missing.  First: Progress.  Secondly: Actual actions undertaken.  If the group is in exactly the same position as they were a year ago at this time, that actually means they are falling behind. It’s frustrating to receive dairy industry meeting agendas where the only change in the format, presenters and reports is the date at the top of the first page.

Does The Buck Stop In The Barn Or In The Boardroom!

“You have to continue to move forward.  The moment you decide to stand still, the rest of the industry goes by you very quickly.” Thomas Boch speaking of the college sports industry.

To move forward.  Being a board member isn’t a reward for surviving in the dairy industry to the point where you have time to attend meetings.  Time – is the kicker.  The ones who are so busy 24/7 in dairying that they don’t have time to travel for meetings…. to do the homework — know the issues. They aren’t prepared to say “No!” to the status quo. Having said that, it’s amazing how fast a meeting can be wrapped up if one or more of the attendees is showing at a dairy show the next day. There are ways to manage the time, place and length of meetings.  After all, the most important part of a board meeting happens when it is written up and the actions and whom they are assigned to has been recorded. Then the real measure of success comes when the work gets done. Too often the action item remains “incomplete” for far too long.

How Many Of Your Dairy Leaders Use These Excuses!

The Bullvine is fortunate in being able to dialogue with all dairy stakeholders from all sectors of the industry.  We enjoy nothing more than sharing our viewpoints, learning those of others and, best of all, challenging those we meet to confront change for the good of the industry.  We are making excuses when we face something hard but here are the ones that we are getting for the lack of leadership currently facing many dairy organizations and the industry as a whole.

“I would, but I’m too busy” This speaks to the previously mentioned self-preservation priority.

“We would lead but we are currently facing too much competition amongst ourselves.”  This says that they don’t care about you until they can be sure they are the only ones in your wallet.  “We would lead but we are in the midst of downsizing.”  They see the challenges ahead, and they want to hang on to as much as they can for as long as they can, even if it reduces their own effectiveness.

In other words – rather than  making changes that meet the needs of the current and future membership, the associations who make excuses are only considering their own needs. Unfortunately, they don’t recognize that, without a sustainable, profitable industry, they too will disappear.  As Benjamin Franklin put it so clearly, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately!”

This is NOT a News Flash!

If it was easy to foresee the future, our industry would not be facing the issues and challenges it does. It’s hard work to be progressive.  When you picture the time it takes to serve on industry boards, associations and consulting groups, you might not be blamed for seeing it as a waste of time.  Who needs to sit around a table offering platitudes at best, sharing gossip at worst, and all the time thinking, “My time could be so much better spent back on the farm?”  You’re not wrong if that’s the kind of organization you’re specifically thinking about. Who wants to endure lengthy, time-consuming presentations (aka death by PowerPoint) , bickering board members, deadlocked decision-making, sneaky power grabs or, worst of all, a rubber-stamp committee that might as well not exist at all. Maybe it’s better to wait and see and hope that it all changes (positively) on its own.

Procrastinate Until They Legislate

Indeed, procrastination does lead to change.  If left to its logical negative end, someone will step in, whether it’s the government, banks or competitors. They will then take the decision making right out of our hands. If we are not ready to determine the genetics, herd size, animal care or leadership we need, someone else will do it for us.  The trouble is we won’t have any say, and certainly it will be neither profitable nor sustainable for those who give up their voice. Do we want to be forced to change?

Looking Back.  Looking Ahead.

Thirty years ago not all farmers cared about international markets, research or genetics – let alone genomics.  That didn’t mean, however that Boards, Associations or Universities where ignoring these issues.  Indeed the worldwide reputation of North American dairy cattle impacted the entire industry right back to the farm gate.  Riding that wave may one of the reasons contributing to our current complacency and willingness to rest on past laurels.

Today the very success of not only North American dairying but dairying in developing countries as well has contributed to a more level global playing field.  Contrary to resting on past achievements, it is time once again to take the industry to the next level in all areas: genetics, research, health, tools, equipment and systems. Once again we need leadership.  It’s time to accept that not all of us see the dairy industry in exactly the same way, but all of us need to embrace change that will build the future. Take risks.  Do things differently.   Never lose your courage to move ahead.  Don’t be paralyzed by what is coming at you.  Be energized.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The goal is not to avoid the issues or to completely eradicate them.  There isn’t a three step plan that will guarantee the future.  The future of the dairy industry will be made by initiators who figure out how to keep moving, when it seems that the only choice is to stay still and remain stuck.  Let’s use our insights to keep this industry where it deserves to grow … in the spotlight!




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