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HERd Management: Finding hope during uncertain times

Raechel Kilgore Sattazahn for Progressive Dairy Published on 30 June 2020

In the dairy industry, we are used to uncertain times. Variability in milk prices, weather and other factors are challenges in an ordinary year. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has added a new dimension to uncertainty in the dairy industry.

In addition to now being concerned about the health of our family and our employees, the dairy markets have been strained in new ways.

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As effective as dairy producers are at dealing with uncertainty, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic will have lasting effects on our farm operations. For some farms, the impacts may be devastating and something their operations can’t overcome. For others, the pandemic has brought new opportunities in the face of a disaster. Certainly, all of us and our businesses have been changed by the pandemic in some way, and the crisis will continue to influence us for months to come.

So how do we maintain hope when the world around us seems to be in turmoil and our businesses have seen significant changes? Let’s consider some ways we’ve changed for the better:

  • Strengthened connections. While the pandemic has caused us to physically distance ourselves, we have found new ways to connect with family and friends. Zoom calls with friends, FaceTime sessions with grandparents and webinars with industry organizations are all part of our new normal. I find I talk on the phone and check in with friends and family more now than I had prior to the COVID-19 crisis. Agriculture industry organizations and businesses have stepped up their level of communication and remain committed to keeping dairy producers informed. All of this has been a change for the better, and I’ve enjoyed the reignited relationships and connections with those near and far.

  • Recognition for agriculture. Those of us in the agriculture industry have always known the essential role we have in providing food, fuel and fiber for others. The pandemic underscored how critical it is that we maintain a strong food system, from farmers to processors to grocery stores. Consumers are now significantly more aware of the importance of agriculture in daily life and thankful for the work farmers and others in the food system do every day.

  • Adaptability. The COVID-19 crisis has forced us to live through times we never thought we’d see in our lifetime. Agriculture stepped up to the challenge to be adaptable in the current environment. Farmers took advantage of the opportunity to sell product to local consumers. Agriculture businesses donated milk to hungry families. Farm moms home-schooled kids with all of their other responsibilities. Farmers are resilient. Adaptability will be a key aspect to our success in the future.

  • Contingency planning. Planning for a disaster is something we often avoid. In the midst of this crisis, many farms, including ours, took time to consider what should happen in the event someone contracted COVID-19. Even if a farm hasn’t taken time to write a contingency plan, it has been something on all of our minds about what steps we should take should the unthinkable happen. Hopefully, we’re all a bit better prepared for the next disaster that might strike our farms.

  • Lifelong learning. With changing conditions on a daily basis, lifelong learning has never been more important. The pandemic has caused dairy producers to stay informed, understand impacts on their business and make decisions. In these challenging times, I believe our industry has learned more than we even realize. We’ve certainly learned the importance of risk management and its role in our operations, no matter what the outlook.

  • A focus on what’s important. Like many Americans, I admit that, prior to COVID-19, maintaining my health was not at the top of my priority list. But suddenly we’ve all realized there isn’t much more important than our health. Living through a pandemic is scary. Our families and businesses are dependent on our health, safety and well-being. It is critical we take steps in our everyday life, during a pandemic or not, to remain healthy, both physically and mentally.

The pandemic has changed us in many ways but, as described above, some of them are for the better. There is no doubt there will be significant changes in the dairy industry because of the pandemic. Instead of getting caught up in the COVID-19 news and worrying about the many factors you can’t control, consider how you have learned and grown from this experience.

Don’t submit yourself to helplessness and despair. Rather, reflect on what makes you hopeful about the industry and your individual situation, and how you can position yourself for future success.  end mark

Raechel Kilgore 
Sattazahn

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