By Aidan Connolly, Cainthus
The importance of agriculture and our food system has never been clearer to the world than now. The scale of the crisis is enormous but are there positive actions that producers have made and can use post-virus? Make lemonade out of lemons.
Producers and farmers are the best adaptors. Through wars, weather and crisis we have maintained an upward trajectory in productivity and efficiency.
Crisis, however, creates new mental muscles that once exercised give us skills and abilities we can keep for the rest of our lives. Here are seven examples:
1. Embrace online (no, really this time!)
Even as the world has moved online, agriculture has been slow because "we’ve always done it this way."
Biosecurity changes all that. Swine producers have a long history with viruses and know that strange people or trucks be allowed to turn up on your farm? What about your nutritionist or veterinarian? Why spend days chasing replacement parts for equipment, find new customers for your produce or meet doctors, lawyers face-to-face? What would you do if you could never meet your suppliers or your customers in person again? The explosion of Zoom and online trading platforms show what is possible. Isn’t it time to make online your default standard and not slide back into old practices?
2. Train and retrain yourself and your team
In a world with COVID those who can learn online have a distinct advantage and full computer literacy has become a basic minimum. Do all your employees have it?
The current lockdown is the ideal opportunity for all to embrace online courses, learn languages/ skills, acquire certifications in animal management/welfare/sustainability. Should the dictum for your farm employees be ‘don’t return post-Corona virus with the same skill set’?
3. Bury the hatchet, repair fences
So much of what we do and accomplish in farming is based on cooperation rather than competition, but some of us love to "make more money or lose less than the neighbor." Competition, even within families, leads to poor decisions that hurt everyone and result in emotional and financial costs. During COVID-19 many of us have reached out to estranged family and friends by phone or email, so isn’t it time to repair your business "fences" as well? You can never have too many friends in farming. Change it.
4. Discover human talent and develop customer loyalty
Labor on pig farms has never been so difficult as salaries increase and the lure of physically easier work in cities. The challenges of finding and retaining well trained knowledgeable workers for farms and processing plants are the subject of presentations at many swine conferences.
Equally, the challenges of processing plant closures and supply chain disruptions have made it clear to food retailers how important their relationships are with their suppliers. Loyalty has value. COVID-19 could create a window of opportunity to create solid teams and a clear direction for your farm. Employee loyalty could be a positive outcome of this crisis.
5. Can we do it cheaper, better?
Past crises show us that it is critical to act early and decisively to cut costs, grasp nettles and find ways towards new efficiencies. Do it decisively and do it once. On farm, this means looking at your team and management. Do you have the right people on board? Does technology allow us to do things differently and cheaper? A crisis creates the impetus to address issues that will never be addressed when things are easier. Why wait?
6. Find a work-life balance
The nature of swine farming has traditional ensured that producers can both work and be at home. As farms consolidate and become more integrated, producer-owners become managers and their work-life balance has deteriorated. Reflecting on this during the lockdown, the pandemic gives a glimpse of our mortality. Will we change our attitude to work and the pursuit of material happiness? Certainly, this is something to consider as confinement caused by the virus recedes.
7. Realize change is good
What changes could you make to become more resilient? Technology offers extraordinary opportunities. Can you manage your farm remotely, using cameras and sensors? Could you use artificial intelligence to make better decisions? Consider 3-D printing to replace equipment parts? Virtual reality to teach and train new team members and see best practices from farms around the world? Robots in the barn, in processing plants? Cameras and machine learning, to manage pigs, reduce errors and eliminate mistakes?
Embrace them, change.
Connolly will join Dan Thomson, DVM, chair of the Department of Animal Science at Iowa State University, in a discussion on “What Will Livestock Technology Look Like in the Face of COVID-19?” during Farm Journal Field Days on Tuesday, August 25 at noon. To register for this free virtual event, visit www.farmjournalfielddays.com.
Aidan J Connolly is the president of AgriTech Capital, North Carolina and CEO of Cainthus. He also teaches on the agri-food MBA programs at three universities and is a contributor to Forbes Technology Council.
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