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Book review: Dairy farmers can learn from Apple’s founder

Pearse Lyons Published on 24 February 2014

“I think Henry Ford once said, ‘If I asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me a faster horse’,” noted Steve Jobs. He went on to say that we are in the beginning stages of what will be a truly remarkable breakthrough for people, as remarkable as the invention of the telephone.

What then is the future of dairy farming? As I read Steve Jobs’ biography, I could not help but be compelled by the power of his vision and the capability of the dairy industry, and entire ag industry, to put a “dent” in the universe.

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As Jobs once said to Pepsi’s president, John Scully, “Don’t spend your life selling sugar water,” or in other words, “Don’t you surely want to change the world?”

Innovation is the single-most important aspect in the book on Steve Jobs. Much of what he said reminded me of what motivator and management consultant Declan Coyle said in his book, The Green Platform . Both books are simply life-changing.

How can we be life-changing in our industry? Where do we start? What do we do?

First and foremost, we have to be different.

Second, we have to be in control. Steve Jobs was on what Coyle would call the “Green Platform.” He had what Paul Coelho would call a treasure.

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So, what is that treasure for us?

Farming.

Farmers are the world’s entrepreneurs, yet they have a lot to learn from Steve Jobs. Why don’t we take charge of our own future? Why don’t we embrace global warming and carbon footprint, not as costs but as opportunities?

I remember visiting a dairy co-op in Colombia, South America, some years ago, and they asked, “How can we possibly brand milk?” I said, “Easy.” Why not follow Paul Scofield’s Sir Thomas Moore from that famous movie, A Man for All Seasons , by having a milk for all seasons?

We would have milk that was enhanced. The enhanced calcium levels would promote proper bone growth in young children. DHA from algae, not added to the milk but added to the feed that the animals are fed, would also add nutritional benefit to consumers.

For older people, let’s focus on the different types of fat in the milk, fats that would assist in reducing heart attacks and cardiovascular disease.

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How do we pay for this? As we go back to Steve Jobs’ book, he tells us how: create something different. He tells us to embrace new technology. What phone do you have in your hand? Did that phone exist 10 years ago?

Why is it that we cull our dairy cows, and we get one or two, possibly at a stretch, three lactations – and other parts of the world are getting eight, nine and 10 lactations? Why is it that one dairy farmer in Wisconsin got, not 20,000 pounds of milk, not 30,000, 40,000 or 50,000 pounds, but 72,000 pounds of milk? If he can do it, then why can’t we do it?

By focusing on health, you will increase the longevity of the dairy herd, you will lower the costs and you will put that dent in the universe. Steve Jobs said that people with passion can change the world for the better.

When asked what advice he would give aspiring entrepreneurs, and I think this applies to those of us in the dairy industry as well, he would say, “Get a job as a busboy or something until you figure out what you are really passionate about.” Passion is everything.

Passion and leadership go hand-in-hand. A leader shows the way, particularly in times of crisis. Former President John F. Kennedy said it best: that crisis written in Chinese is two words – danger and opportunity. Today’s dairymen need to follow President Kennedy in that advice and see the opportunity, not the danger.

So, when we look to the dairy industry, I see six take-away messages from Steve Jobs’ biography:

1. Be passionate and committed to what you do.

2. Look for innovations and big leap changes in your business, not the same old, same old.

3. Read and pay attention to what the consumers are saying and doing.

4. Focus on branding. Elevate the image, not just of the dairy industry, but start with the image of your farm.

5. Go for it; don’t debate, go for it. That is why you are farmers. Rely on your intuition to deliver unique products.

6. Watch other industries and collaborate with successful businesses.

The future of the dairy industry has never been more promising. The world’s demand for protein is increasing as developing countries in Asia and other parts of the world develop higher income per capita.

Think about it; China has 1.3 billion people and the stated ambition of their premier is that there would be one liter of milk per person (2 pounds) per day. If you work the math out, that is a staggering 2.5 billion pounds of milk per day. By my math, that would require 40 million cows. What an opportunity.

No journey starts until you take that first step. In Declan Coyle’s The Green Platform , he echoes Steve Jobs when he says, “Accept what is happening. It is as it is.

Do not argue with reality or you will lose 100 percent of the time. Instead, take what things are, it is as it is, make a list of 100 items, and which is the one thing that I can do to make the situation better?” says Coyle.

Eradicate those toxic influences and go for it. That is the message from both Steve Jobs and Declan Coyle. PD

Pearse lyons

Pearse Lyons
President
Alltech Inc.

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