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The state of dairy: More than an annual report

Progressive Dairyman Editor Dave Natzke Published on 11 March 2019

Near the beginning of every year, political leaders at every level step to lecterns to give their “state of” reports. Business leaders issue updates on company financials and targets, and time is devoted in every organization’s annual meeting to review numbers and trends.

As is my nature, much of this year’s “State of Dairy” summary follows similar patterns.

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One person I reach out to each year for this report is a person I consider a friend: Deb Reinhart, a Wisconsin dairy farmer and longtime leader of the Professional Dairy Producers Foundation. I got a late start on the project, and the questions got lost in Deb’s email inbox, so her responses arrived after I had put almost everything together and shipped it off to our Progressive Dairyman magazine production team.

Those who know Deb and have heard her speak have witnessed how the heart she wears on her sleeve is never far from her head for numbers. For purposes of this column, then, I’m going to devote some space to Deb’s responses to my questions.

The passion and compassion associated with dairy farming, as expressed by Deb and others I talked with for this project, are at a level many people – especially the zealous vegan activists I’ve been reading so much about lately – will not or cannot comprehend.

Deb writes:

Our concerns of a year ago have come to fruition. Many of us have not experienced the profitability we are accustomed to. We have had to use our line of credit, unlike other years, and our assets have lost value over the last year. The land seems to still hold value, but everything else is worth less. The labor situation has also deteriorated.

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I feel dairymen are frightened in a way that is unlike the past. We are culling youngstock and cows and keeping only necessary inventory. We are focusing on team building and training. We have made some changes to our team, updated job descriptions and expectations. We are price checking all purchases and investing in only necessary items. We have identified some areas for improvement … going back to basics and improving areas where we can impact change on the dairy. We are doing so many things well on our dairy, but this is a business of degrees, and there is no wiggle room for anything but perfection.

We have assessed our dairy business, made some changes and set goals. This is a laborious task but makes me wonder why we do not do it all the time. The work we have done in team building with our managers has been very exciting.

I have to admit to being surprised that, at this stage in our career, we are finding our dairy in the state it is in. In the 1980s, we did not have so much to lose. Now, with the investment we have made and the growth in our dairy, there is so much more at stake. I recently read that we should not expect the farm to be our retirement. Unfortunately, we have a lifetime of investing in the dairy in hopes it would be our retirement. I have to believe most farmers are in the same boat.

Having just wrapped up my third year at Progressive Publishing, Deb’s comments reminded me that just about every decision you make as a dairy farmer reverberates back to us, impacting our teams of editors and marketers, production and circulation staffs, managers and owners.

Thanks, Deb, for reminding us again to think with our heads and listen with our hearts.  end mark

Dave Natzke
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