A dairy producer recently asked me why does the dairy industry seem to grow and progress in one area and stagnate and wither in another area? The same question could be asked about any agricultural business. What explains the difference?
Is the difference fully explained by soil types or amount of dairy infrastructure? Soil type and productivity are certainly important but I’ve also seen where high producing soils generate more cash cropping rather than dairy farms. We know the importance of infrastructure such as dairy veterinarians, milk hauling, equipment dealers, but often, these follow dairy’s growth rather than the opposite. So what does determine whether the industry will grow or not in an area?
Through my experience in Extension working with the dairy industry for over two decades, I believe that the answer is people. I believe that progressive individuals inspire, challenge and help one another and the result is that together they progress. I believe that you will improve in your business when you surround yourself with progressive people who love the industry and believe in a future in it.
It can be indirect – recently, I talked with a progressive dairy producer about how farmers help one another. He told me that he has benefited much from listening and watching other producers. As one progresses, tries things, uses new technology, grows or builds, others see, hear and learn from the progressive individual.
It can be direct – through the conversations, advice and encouragement that producers can provide each other. For more than four years, I’ve worked with groups of young dairy producers and watched as they have become people who challenge, help and guide each other. The groups as a whole have progressed because they support and encourage one another.
All too often, farmers easily become isolated on their own farms, shut off from others by the demands of their work. Yet, we need each other, and we particularly need to interact with producers who are positive and progressive.
Maybe you long for those types of relationships. What can you do?
1. Be a leader. If you are not surrounded by progressive people, then be the leader. Encourage others. Challenge yourself to improve and challenge others to join you in improvement by setting goals and holding each other accountable. Maybe you do that in feed cost per hundredweight, or in milk quality or in heifer performance. Be aware that leaders get critiqued, and be prepared to go it alone until others follow.
2. Seek out progressive producers. Maybe you need to associate with producers from other areas. Technology enables us to do that more easily today. Meet progressive producers at conferences and meetings and then follow-up with them and build that relationship. Encourage them and let them challenge you. Touch base through regular (on a set day would be great) communication via email or phone.
3. Commit to communication. You can’t sharpen or be sharpened without communication. Though you may not be comfortable with it, you can grow in this area as well.
4. Be humble enough to be challenged. In working with young producers I see a great openness to be challenged because they want to get better. We practice providing three things to commend and three things to recommend when we analyze a member’s farm operation. It takes humility to accept those “recommendations” because they reveal our weaknesses. But that is exactly what we need in order to strengthen those areas.
5. Avoid negative people. Let’s face it. Some individuals will hold you back. Surround yourself with those who help you move forward, whether they are producers or industry professionals. You may even consider business people outside of dairy. They face many of the same issues you face.
Be someone who helps others succeed. Seek out others who will help you succeed. Have an attitude of wanting to get better, and surround yourself with others who want the same things and truly, you will succeed!
Source: Phil Durst, Michigan State University Extension