Chris and I once attended a beef cattle marketing symposium which forever changed my view on negative markets, bad situations and downright nasty-looking problems.

It seems when the market for beef cattle hit the skids, most buyers and sellers ran for cover and wouldn’t enter the market. One cattle feeder found a way to capitalize on the down market rather than run from it. He made money, while others were struggling, by getting into the chicken market.

Scientists at 3M Corporation worked for years to create a permanent-bond adhesive. And they failed at that task. They did, however, manage to create sticky notes that could be repositioned and retain their “stick.” Certainly a failure in the permanent category, but an absolute success in reality!

And even from my own world, I recall a particularly bad fall that left my leg broken in three places and the tendons pulled off of the bone. A very bad situation, but I can honestly say one of the best things that ever happened in my life. True, I could not continue training horses professionally, but I got a chance to enjoy friends and family that, most often, I was too busy to slow down for.

This mandated change in career paths sent me more into management rather than technician positions on our small dairy. And I had time to complete my masters degree — all of which came together to allow Chris and I to build our dairies.

My leg is fine now, but it put us in a position we would have never gone looking for otherwise.

Industry outlook glum

We are now looking at plummeting milk futures. We are only beginning to recovering from the amazingly high feed and fuel prices from last year. Financial institutions are changing to stave off further erosion of the financial sectors.

Big banks are eating small ones. Layoffs and foreclosures abound.

All of this looks bad, really bad.

But opportunities exist

Yet, I believe that bad isn’t necessarily bad. It is just different. Some people may leave the dairy industry, and many may find a kinder way of life for it. Others will have a chance at dairy life because of those that left.

This situation is an opportunity to look at our suppliers with a lot more scrutiny, push for discounts, volume buys or simply to live without the gadget. I think it will force greater competition amongst our suppliers as they fight for survival, too. The quality of workmanship surely has to improve.

From an entrepreneurial point of view, great talent has never been cheaper. Layoff and downsizing have left a lot of great talent available at a discounted salary, people that you could never afford to hire before.

Our own dairy marketing divisions will be hungrier and leaner, both to find new marketplaces as old ones dry up, and to eliminate our own industry fat. Innovation comes from such times.

It’s a great chance to refinance for better rates and terms. It’s also a chance to look at current business and management practices for more efficient systems and tools.

Are any of these changes bad? No. Many of them we should have made beforehand, anyway. The pressures now will make gems out of those nasty lumps of coal — you just have to be looking for them.

Mary Kraft dairies with her husband, Chris, near Fort Morgan, Colo.