We’ve missed the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, but four days into 2011 is not too late to make a few resolutions. Not the type to make resolutions, you say? Well, I’m guessing you set all kinds of goals and targets for your farm or ranch business, and that’s really all resolutions are—sort of a “to-do list” for the year.

Even though most people deny making resolutions, a Zogby Interactive poll shows that two-thirds of Americans actually do set forth goals. While losing weight and exercising more top most people’s list, saving money scored nearly as high this year. In a sense, all three of those are worth noting for livestock and dairy producers as they shed some light onto the consumer’s mindset regarding food and finances. After all, meat and dairy prices are pegged to be higher in 2011.

As for agriculture-based resolutions, the point is to think about a few items that need to be addressed in the weeks, months, year ahead, and give them some status within your business plans. I’m not talking about individual production or profit goals here; I’m talking about broader agriculture industry needs in which you can play a role. Here are three:

• Animal care and handling: This has to be a priority item for you and your staff. Certainly there is no shortage of help with this task, as every farm or commodity group has animal care and handling programs and resources available. From there, you need to train and treat your workers right, and commit to a zero-tolerance policy for violators. Put the right employees in the right positions and if they aren’t working out or you have concerns, move them to another area or release them from service. Keep a clear eye on the animal handling practices on your farm or ranch, and if you can’t then bring in a fresh set of eyes.
• Speak up for agriculture. While you’re loyalties may lean toward a particular commodity sector—whether that’s pork, beef, dairy, corn or others— agriculture is too interdependent and too much of a minority to tackle today’s challenges separately. It’s certainly no way to maximize time, personnel, money or programs. Sure, sectors compete for input supplies and customers, but with less than 1 percent of the U.S. population involved in agriculture, can you really afford to work alone? With the newly developed U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, I have renewed hope that we’ll see a more unified voice develop. Get to know more about that group and get involved. At least commit to that unified approach within your own community to promote agriculture.
• Listen to consumers. Put your frustrations aside and be prepared to explain to consumers what and why you do things, how you care for animals, how you’ve reduced herbicide and antibiotic use, and how you farm in a more environmentally friendly way today. Most importantly, do this in layman’s language. Consumers are more interested in your sincerity and authenticity than the science behind the process. They don’t know you and don’t trust you. Resolve to change that. Use some of your drive time or field time to run through these types of conversations and formulate what you might say.

Now, within those three broad areas, you and your staff (be sure to involve them) could carve out a few minutes during a lunch break to identify projects and set goals. Break into groups of people who might want to tackle a particular task, and set timelines to check on progress. Because these “resolutions” are different than the regular types of production goals that you set forth for the business, the process can actually invigorate workers. It will help them understand the challenges and opportunities your business (and their livelihoods) face and make them feel part of the bigger picture.

Whether you call them resolutions, goals or something else, the point is to make changes and move forward in the year ahead.

By Marlys Miller, editor Pork magazine