Dairy producers have had to endure the toughest economic conditions in their lifetime. And, many people have had harrowing experiences on an airplane or in a strange environment. How we react to these crises is often a mirror into our character.

T. Pearse Lyons, president of Alltech, told 1,100 people Monday about a time when he and his 11-year-old son, Mark, were on a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Toronto in July 1989. Upon take-off ,everyone on board heard a loud noise, but didn’t think much about it until a few hours later when the pilot came on and announced that the plane had lost part of its undercarriage.

A lot of people on board were saying their Hail Mary’s or praying. “It was a crisis,” Lyons acknowledges.

With an 11-year-old in tow, Lyons had to remain calm and reassured — at least on the outside.

Later, after the plane landed safely, Mark’s mother inquired of her son, “What did your father say to you?” Mark replied, “Dad said it was OK and it happens all the time. He said ‘read your book,’ so I did.”

Alltech has been affected, as well, by the current economic crisis. For one thing, the company has had to put an $80 million biorefinery project on hold because it’s been difficult to secure bank financing. (This, in spite of the fact Alltech received $38 million in state and federal grants for the project.) Uncertainty in the ethanol markets has contributed to the situation, making the lenders even more reluctant.

But the company intends to move forward with its research into cellulosic ethanol and a secondary phase of producing biofuel from algae. Lyons is also optimistic about a new technology known as nutrigenomics, which looks at animals’ response to nutrients at the cellular level.

A crisis can be an opportunity, Lyons pointed out. It can be used to build character and an impetus to try new things.

“If we believe in ourselves, we can make things happen,” he told those attending the Alltech Animal Health and Nutrition Symposium in Lexington, Ky.

“Don’t let this crisis disfigure us; let it transform us,” he said. “Don’t be a victim, be a victor.”