DBA appeals to farmers of the future for industry disruption

By Beth Newhart

- Last updated on GMT

“We have to disrupt our industry from within, or we’ll be disrupted from without." Pic: Dairy Strong
“We have to disrupt our industry from within, or we’ll be disrupted from without." Pic: Dairy Strong

Related tags dairy business association Dairy Farm Dairy farmers Dairy farming Milk production Milk price

Some top priorities for US dairy farmers in 2020 are future planning, risk management and secure milk supplies. All were examined at the Dairy Business Association’s (DBA) Dairy Strong conference in Wisconsin in January.

The foundation of dairy’s future rests with farmers, but it’s a question of what that farmer looks like in the middle of the changing global industry.

A farmer’s personality traits contribute to the success of a farm and the overall category, according to Brett Sciotto, president and CEO of agricultural research company Aimpoint Research.

“For almost all farmers, this is a period of tremendous uncertainty. Farmers always have to be thinking and planning, especially these days,”​ Sciotto said.

All farmers need to be disruptors

At the Dairy Strong conference, he explained the pros and cons of five different farmer personalities. The ‘independent elites’ are financially strong farmers that are often successful, innovative and optimistic.

‘Enterprising business builders’ are described as entrepreneurial and open to new methods. Sciotto said they aren’t afraid of taking risks because they believe they can always find a solution.

‘Classic practitioner’ farmers are very goal-oriented but tend to be resistant to new management practices. Financial struggles won’t deter them because they love the farmer lifestyle.

‘Self-reliant traditionals’ make no effort to grow or adapt, Sciotto said. They stick with older generational practices and think investing in new farming technology is frivolous.

And finally, Sciotto said that ‘leveraged lifestylers’ found success when the markets were good, but are becoming negative after being tested with new financial struggles. They now blame the markets for their failures.

“We have to disrupt our industry from within, or we’ll be disrupted from without. The message to the farmer of the future is to keep on pushing, to keep on trying new things to find those opportunities in the market that are going to continue to evolve over time,”​ Sciotto said.

Reinvesting resilience in 2020

Marin Bozic, a dairy economist, advised that farmers should be planning ahead better, and taking advantage of the new technology and tools available to make risk management easier.

Mike North, of Vault Ag, agreed, calling risk management on farms an ‘all encompassing endeavor’ and ‘so complex right now’ while the market has so much uncertainty.

In the hectic trade landscape, Bozic suggested the best way for the US to tackle China “is just to ignore them,”​ while the US works to become energy independent and technology savvy.

“2020 is going to be a good year. I would say it’s a year to reinvest in your resilience, either through rebuilding your equity or setting up the risk management programs not just for the next few quarters, but also all the way through the middle of 2021,”​ he said.

“Going forward, we know cows are improving their milk production at a faster rate than the rate at which our population is growing, and our components are growing as well. Some possible solutions to our supply and demand issues are to resolve the export issues immediately, do what we can to make Americans love dairy products more or reduce our cow numbers.”

Leaning on the broad dairy network

Keeping a secure milk supply and having a basic plan for handling diseases and viruses on all farms and facilities is critical, according to Dr Darlene Konkle, of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP).

At Dairy Strong, she explained maintaining a secure milk supply requires collaborative efforts between farmers, dairy processors and facility visitors. Resources on securemilksupply.org​ were recommended for both producers and processors of milk.

Businesses should be looking at mitigation factors and enhanced biosecurity practices on farms and in facilities. Keeping electronic records of animals and animal products and conducting regular employee training will help combat actual disease outbreaks and prepare for the process.

The sixth annual Dairy Strong conference was held in Madison, Wisconsin in January, bringing together dairy farmers and agribusiness representatives.

Tom Crave, president of the DBA, said, “Dairy Strong is really a celebration of what unites us in the dairy community. We face many of the same challenges and we strive to find solutions, and we are reminded that we have a broader network of support than we might realize.”

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