Walk into the old wooden barn on Ray Souza’s property and you walk back in time. First of all, it is so quiet, except for some pigeons cooing in the rafters. The wooden planks, originally from an older barn and then used to build this barn in 1935, are understandably etched and showing their age. Then, you hear Ray talk about the days when hay literally filled the barn from the ground up, and he and his cousins and friends would play all sorts of games in the upper reaches of the structure. If you think hard enough, you can almost hear them shouting as they play pirate ship. If you look hard enough, you can almost see them swinging from a rope, like Tarzan, onto the hay below.  

It is a great place to get away from the world — a world that is changing way too fast.

Souza, who serves as president of Western United Dairyman, a membership organization representing more than 60 percent of the milk produced in California, has seen plenty of change over the years. Currently, he and other California producers are learning all they can about the new state-mandated waste-discharge requirements — perhaps the biggest change they have had to deal with, on a collective basis, since dairies switched from Grade B to Grade A back in the 1950s.

The 60-year-old Souza is a realist when it comes to dealing with change. “Change is coming,” he says, and it “will be directed less and less by farmers. Urbanization is directing a lot of this change.” 

With change so inevitable, here are some ways to deal with it.

Know the world around you 

First, you need to know something about change — and how humans respond to it.

People usually react to change by seeing it either as a “loss” or an “opportunity,” says Bob Milligan, senior consultant at Dairy Strategies and professor emeritus at Cornell University, who has lead discussions on change-management for extension educators and agribusiness professionals.   

Of course, there are times when change is legitimately a “loss,” such as losing one’s job, death of a loved one or an accident. In these instances, the grief response takes over. But with regard to the more normative, everyday changes in one’s life, it is better to view those as an “opportunity,” Milligan points out. 

And, the more you know about the world around you, the more likely you are to see change as “opportunity.”

“We’re more likely to view change as an opportunity if we have more control and involvement, and that’s where knowledge and understanding come in,” Milligan says. “The more you understand about things, the less scary they are.”

Milligan says it’s especially important to get involved at the local community level, so you can anticipate and understand the changes that may affect you and your farm directly.

Souza, for one, is active on the county planning board, the county fair board, Western United Dairymen and a number of other organizations. He’s been active in politics as well — the pictures on the wall showing him meeting with President Bush and former President Bill Clinton attest to that.

Being close to dairy policy is good, he says. “It’s opened my eyes to the way the system works.”

“Simply staying home and doing your daily work is not enough anymore,” Souza adds.

“We have to be at the table when the rules are made. We have to get involved.”

It’s also good to read state and local newspapers, farm publications and anything else that can keep you informed of changes.

Be open to change

You have to be ready for change on an emotional level as well as an intellectual level.

It always helps to maintain a positive attitude. Or, as Gale Loeffler puts it, be sure to keep your “sunny side up.”

Loeffler, formerly of the ColoradoStateUniversity extension office in Arapahoe County, Colo., and now a conference coordinator, says if you are open to change, you will see all of the possibilities that change has to offer. “Change is always going to come, so embrace it,” she says. “It’s exciting, there’s something new — it’s not the same old, same old,” she adds.

Souza has developed his own philosophical approach. 

A person “changes” even when standing still, Souza says. That’s because the industry is changing around him, and by standing still the person’s relationship to the industry has changed because the industry is no longer in the same place. 

Remember the old barn on Souza’s farm? In a picture of the farmstead taken in 1973, the farm is standing next to a stanchion barn (with 95 cows). More recently, it is standing next to a double-16 herringbone parlor and free-stall barns (accommodating 800 cows). Certainly, the world around it has changed.

Develop an informed response

How will you respond to change? Will you address it head-on or will you withdraw and hope that it blows over?

In the best-selling book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” author Stephen Covey says people who have a strong sense of mission or purpose in their lives are better able to handle change than those who have an underlying sense of meaninglessness or emptiness.

Therefore, it would be good to consider your core values and even write a personal mission statement for your life. (A personal mission statement is not necessarily the same as the farm’s mission statement.) You can then weigh the mission statement against any changes that come your way. Hopefully, it will tell you what to do — or, even more importantly, what not to do.

Develop an organized thought process or response to change.

Monte Hemenover, dairy-industry consultant and president of Avenues for Change, in St. Louis, has developed a seven-step thought process that works well in this regard.

1. Gather information about the impending change.

2.  Analyze the information and break it down into component parts. What are the potential positive and negative outcomes of each choice? What resources can you bring to bear, such as support groups, family members or special talents?

3. Prioritize your response plan. Choose what action or which person to focus on first.

4. Plan your response. Create a step-by-step series of actions.

5.  “Imagine” your response. See it in your mind’s eye and practice it mentally. (This is where Hemenover’s eight “Ps” come in, including the purpose or basic outcome sought, the picture of how things will look, the plan, the participation of different people and the process by which it will happen. You might even have participants practice what they need to do and exercise patience as they work out the bugs. Finally, think of ways to measure performance/profit.)

6. Execute the response. Take charge of your thoughts and actions.

Reflect on what happened. What went right or wrong? What will you do differently next time? And, borrowing on some of the eight “Ps” above, measure the performance and profit.

Are you prepared for change? 

As hectic as your life might seem, dairy farming is fairly secure compared to some of the other jobs you might have.

Many people in the corporate world switch job titles, bosses and office locations on a frequent basis. They would tell you that living on a farm and being your “own boss” is relatively stable by comparison.

Bob Milligan, senior consultant at Dairy Strategies and professor emeritus at CornellUniversity, agrees that dairy producers can sometimes be at a disadvantage when dealing with change.

For one thing, dairying is a business that’s based on routine — you want the cows milked the same way every time. In some ways, it is like running an auto plant. And, look at the difficult time that many of the auto manufacturers have had adapting to change.

Second, farm managers don’t always get a chance to “rub shoulders” with people in other occupations besides farming. 

Milligan says his 55-year-old brother, a cash-crop farmer in Michigan, really benefited from joining the local Rotary Club and meeting other people in the community.  He benefited as well by being involved with Farm Bureau and a government-appointed bean promotion board.

Seeing the world outside the realm of your own farm can be very beneficial when dealing with change.