You Can Be Sustainable Too

When I was growing up I was a huge Dallas Cowboys fan. I had a poster hanging in my bedroom of Ed “Too Tall” Jones and Harvey Martin standing around a Super Bowl trophy. Although I emulated them, I knew that I would likely never have the athletic ability to actually accomplish what they did as athletes. 

I’m wondering if some dairy farmers feel the same way. You read stories about farmers who have excelled in developing sustainable farming and business practices, making significant investments in time and talent to accomplish great things, yet you wonder if you will ever be able to accomplish the same thing. 

The answer is yes, you can. But, more than likely, you’re already there. 

The dairy producer featured in our cover story (page 10), John Maxwell, started small. He started his dairy just when he got out of college and needed cheap feed “because I was dirt poor,” he says. So he read an Iowa State University Extension publication about using cover crops, and he harvested 10 acres of ryegrass that spring that he fed to his heifers and cows. He didn’t know he was being sustainable, but he was. That small act led to bigger and better things. 

There are probably things you’re doing that lead to sustainability that you’re not even aware of. If you follow what your nutrient management plan says, you’re being sustainable. If you treat your cows with care and compassion, and your employees the same way, you’re being sustainable. If you sponsor your kid’s baseball team, post pictures on a Facebook page of a new calf being born, or just respond in a positive way when folks at church ask about what you do as a dairy farmer, you’re being sustainable. 

You are also being sustainable if you take care of your finances, pay down your debt and make wise purchases. Then you’re being even more sustainable when you sit down with an attorney and draw up a succession plan so the next generation has a chance to be sustainable, too. 

So you don’t have to invest millions of dollars in technology, hire someone to build a website or build a detailed investment portfolio. You just have to take care of the environment, your cows and your people, then be proud to tell your story when you get the chance. 

While that may seem insignificant, it’s actually really important. Because consumers are listening (page 42) and whether you milk 40 cows or 4,000, what you do reflects on the greater dairy industry. That’s true for everyone, not just for the producers you read about in the paper.