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HERd management: Break free from your silos

Katie Dotterer-Pyle for Progressive Dairyman Published on 05 August 2016

Working in silos. No, not the kind that hold feed – the metaphoric kind we do unconsciously where we stay in our comfort zone, in our own little area of the world, doing the daily grind in the same place and surrounding ourselves with the same people, day in and day out.

As farmers, we spend a lot of time in these silos due to the amount of work we have to accomplish every day. However, in the competitive global marketplace we find ourselves in now, we need to break free from those silos from time to time and expand our knowledge and network of people.

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As my dad would often tell me when encouraging me to try new things: “Broaden your horizons.” Take on challenges. Think outside the box. Try something new.

After attending numerous dairy events and meetings over the years, you get accustomed to seeing the same people, talking about the same topics. It became clear after two different events my husband and I attended separately that we’re missing a lot by not breaking free from our silos.

I had the opportunity to represent my co-op, Land O’Lakes, National Milk Producers Federation and my fellow dairy farmers in Washington, D.C., lobbying on certain issues pertinent to our industry. I had always thought of Land O’Lakes as solely a dairy cooperative, but it’s much more than that.

The “ag side,” as we call it, is their Winfield division, and their many member-owners are hog farmers, crop farmers, turkey farmers, etc. I got to know quite a few non-dairy farmers, and to say I learned a lot is an understatement.

To learn about another sector of agriculture was fascinating and intriguing. I always knew these types of farmers existed, but learning what their risk factors are and how they run their businesses was eye-opening and made me start thinking of how to incorporate some of their tactics into my dairy business.

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Many of us still keep in touch via social media and email, and when we meet later in D.C. to lobby again, we will pick up where our conversations left off a year before.

Just recently, my husband attended a meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, where dairy producers were the minority. He met many row-crop farmers from the Corn Belt and across the nation. He came home inspired and motivated by his many conversations with those farmers, asking himself and me, “Why don’t we do (such and such) in the dairy industry? What if we did do such and such?”

Busting out of our silos allows us to experience new things and meet new people, which in turn allows for thought-provoking conversations that would have otherwise never happened. Business cards are always swapped between producers, which helps cement your widening network of people because now you have various ways to contact them to perhaps further those thought-provoking discussions.

In my opinion, the dairy industry has always been behind the times due to our constant work in silos. The most recent example? Fluid milk. While other beverage companies were producing innovative flavored drinks with attention-grabbing packaging, milk was still being processed and put on store shelves in the same old plastic gallon or half-gallon containers.

What did those other beverage companies do? They broke down their silos of always doing what worked in the past. They stepped out of their comfort zones in order to ask consumers what they want, what they care about and then developed products to suit consumers’ needs and wants.

The dairy industry has just always assumed that people know milk is a super-food and that consumption wouldn’t decrease – like it has in the past decade. We should’ve been out there, out of our silos, asking the same questions those other companies did. But due to staying within our comfort zones, we didn’t anticipate the shift in the marketplace and are now playing catch-up.

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Another silo we farmers are guilty of staying in? Doing what we do every day and not sharing it with consumers because, well, that makes most uncomfortable. My husband was a prime example. Like most dairy farmers, he just wanted to take care of the cows and the farm day in and day out and not be bothered by anyone else – until I started taking out his silo rings one by one by giving farm tours to those who asked or needed one.

After seeing the positive effect of giving a farm tour, he has broken free of this silo and embraced educating people about what we do. Meeting the people we gave tours to, non-farming people, gave him a completely different perspective of how consumers think and what they care about.

He’s forged new relationships with these people, relationships that are vital and would not have formed had he not stepped out of his comfort zone and tried something new.

I encourage you to break down your own silos. We all have them, and they’re in every business. The first step is realizing what they are. Broaden your horizons. Take on challenges. Think outside the box. Try something new. Build your personal network of people you normally wouldn’t encounter. You’d be surprised at the outcome. Let’s leave silos to hold feed instead of our comfort zones.  PD

Katie Dotterer-Pyle
  • Dairy Producer

  • Union Bridge, Maryland

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