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The year we feel 2009?

PD Editor Walt Cooley Published on 29 February 2012
Walt Cooley at World Dairy expo

I usually look forward to World Dairy Expo and World Ag Expo as the two locations for product launches and unique innovation in the dairy industry. Usually at these shows you can count on seeing a few things – practical or not – that are inventive.

I watched as the show began after the playing of the national anthem with the show’s traditional military fly-over. The difference this year compared to others I’ve seen – just two planes instead of five or three. I thought of two words as the thunder of their engines faded away: Budget cuts.

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I was similarly disappointed this year by the lack of innovation on display. Our staff still looked around and found a few new things, but finding new stuff has been easier in the past. ( Click here to see "Cool stuff we saw at World Ag Expo.")

To be clear, I don’t think the lack of innovation had anything to do with the show. For the most part the weather during the show was good. Show attendance was steady. And the seminars we presented were well received. Instead, I believe the lack of innovation could be the result of 2009.

I recently did an interview with several extension specialists from around the country. ( Click here to view "What’s happening in 2012: An outlook from extension experts.") One of them said that he thought this year would be the one we would feel 2009 the most. He was referring to hints that banks may see that dairies may have recovered a bit in 2010 and 2011 and want to cut their losses.

This may be the year they shift the percentage of their overall agriculture portfolio that lies in dairy or how much agriculture in general makes up their total lending commitments, he said. I too have seen some evidence of that as well. Lenders all want the “best,” although they are more secretive about how they measure it.

I believe that funding for research and development, and many other things, took a back seat to cash flow in 2009. Just as dairies didn’t have money then for anything but the basics, dairy companies likely didn’t invest as much, or at all, in the development of new products.

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Some companies may still be gun-shy about the long-term outlook for the dairy industry and still be holding out on funding research. News reports say that’s what’s happening with other companies in other industries. They are sitting on cash waiting to be assured the products they create will have a market and a profitable consumer for them.

As most new product development takes time, we will likely see less innovation than we are used to for a while. As usual, I hope someone can prove me wrong because dairymen still need new technologies that make them more efficient and profitable.

In conclusion, I would suggest dairy producers ask suppliers what old ideas their other producer clients may be using in new ways. After one of our seminars, I observed one producer approach his supplier who was sponsoring the seminar and ask, “How come I haven’t heard about this?”

While there may not be a lot of hype associated with the public launch of new products (planning and communicating those are expensive), there may be some semi-new things out there, which didn’t get the fanfare we’ve become used to, that may improve your bottom line. Ask specifically for them and you might find a product, technique or service that’s not necessarily new, but new to you. PD

PHOTO: Editor Walt Cooley with California dairyman Tony DeGroot, Sr. Photo by Ray Merritt.

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