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The big 12: Are you ready for these challenges?

Noah Litherland Published on 19 January 2010
Do not let the title of this column fool you into thinking that I am about to address Division 1 college sports. I would like to address twelve issues that you as dairymen or as agribusiness personnel are likely currently addressing or will be forced to address in the near future. The face of agriculture is changing more rapidly now than at any time in history.

I have not identified all of the issues, but there is no doubt these are big ones. All of these issues will affect your cost to produce milk and may impact the sustainability of your operation. I have briefly provided my vision for addressing these challenges under each issue.

Here are the Big 12 in no particular order.

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1. Speed of change
You must remain flexible and be able to respond rapidly to changes occurring not just in your community, but your country and your world.

2. Feed costs and availability

High feed prices are probably here to stay. Those that grow their own forages, use contracts to minimize the impact of costs and optimize the use of purchased feeds will have an advantage.

3. Public/consumer influences on animal management and the products we produce

Consumers are health-conscious, but undereducated in regards to food production. Thanks to the American farmer we have the safest and cheapest food supply available in the world. We must convince the general population that this is true. You must have a voice. Positive public relation in your community and supporting milk check-off is a good start.

4. Disuse of technology

If we are going to feed the world, then we must find ways to produce food more efficiently. Taking a step back by scrapping proven technology is not the answer.

5. Water availability and water quality
It takes about 20 gallons of water to produce a gallon of milk. Think about what you can do to achieve the same goal with less.

6. Availability and quality of labor
Retaining quality labor has never been more important. Additionally, expressing challenges with immigration issues with your congressman through producer organizations should be a priority.

7. Shrinking dairy industry
Never before has the burden to feed so many fallen on so few. Cooperate with remaining local dairymen to maximize efficiency through sharing resources and helping each other during challenging times.

8. Compliance with environmental regulations
You must have the vision to act first, especially in expansion situations. Use the resources available to you to develop a sustainable agriculture plan.

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9. Urban sprawl shrinking land available for agriculture
You must have the vision to locate wisely.

10. Where are the future farmers?
Let’s get young people enthused about the dairy industry and train them so they can carry the torch. Support your local 4-H and FFA youth and undergraduate and graduate students. They are the face of tomorrow and without them all will be lost.

11. Effects of exports on the demand for dairy products
We must work on a global scale. Dairy exports represent about 10 percent of our demand. Where will this number be in five or ten year?

12. Energy costs and availability.
I challenge you to trim inefficiency from your operation. PD

—Excerpts from Oklahoma Dairy Report, Issue 1, No. 2

Noah Litherland
Animal Science
University of Minnesota

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