by Elizabeth A. Tomlin
Challenging times demand vision, determination, and sometimes joint-ventures, emphasized speakers at the 2018 Northeast Dairy Producers (NEDPA) Conference.
The 2-day event, held in Liverpool, NY, addressed tough industry questions and featured a large roster of respected industry speakers, with a series of break-out sessions providing attendees a variety of topics to focus in on.
Key speakers on day 2 included Dr. David Kohl, Professor Emeritus, Virginia Tech; Craig Regelbrugge, American Hort/ Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform; Farm Management Specialist Jason Karszes, CALS PRO-DAIRY; Tom Wall, Dairy Coach LLC; Kim Bremmer, Ag Inspirations; Kendra Lamb, Lamb Farms, Oakfield, NY, and Joe Swyers, Swyers Dairy, Dansville, NY.
Kohl, a highly esteemed international speaker, reviewed global economic trends, which he sees as an increasing force impacting the dairy industry.
“Things can change, and change very, very rapidly,” Kohl said, reminding attendees that business can go under in a mere six weeks.
Kohl said the future of agribusiness and agriculture has five global economic trends to consider.
Industry trends are going to be more data driven, educationally based, people driven, advisory team directed, and he sees extreme volatility causing adversity, while presenting new opportunity, becoming the norm.
“Your industry is going to be much more data driven,” Kohl stated.
Data collection and education, applied with critical thinking and organization, and focused on individual businesses, will be key to success.
Although Kohl admits that farmers take pride in their independence, he forecasts a change in that mind set.
“In the future, one of the things is, it’s going to be inter-dependent, it’s going to be very, very people driven.”
The people surrounding you will be critical to your success.
“Rid yourself of toxic people,” Kohl advised. “They’ll drag you down mentally and they’ll drag you down financially.”
Acquiring educated advisory teams will also be critical.
Kohl is closely watching international trade risk, which is “a big risk” facing agriculture, with more than 20 percent of net farm income coming from export markets. “If we don’t have an export market we are in a very dire strait.”
“Trade agreements are very, very critical! Global economics really, really do work,” Kohl emphasized.
He is also watching the growth of U.S. economy and the value of the dollar. He advises keeping an eye on Federal Reserves. “Both the appointments and who’s providing leadership.”
Kohl said one of the most “powerful tools” he uses for predictions is “farm record data base.”
“You need to benchmark yourself to those farm record systems — you also need to analyze those trends.”
One “black swan” in ag that Kohl warned producers to be wary of is cyber-attacks in technology.
“The more you go high-tech, the more we become vulnerable for cyber-attacks.”
Immigration is another “black swan” on Kohl’s list.
Regelbrugge spoke about Ag-Labor Challenges and gave some insight into the role played by government officials in resolving (or not) farm immigration/labor issues in a worsening labor crisis.
Concerning the workforce in Ag, Regelbrugge said, “There are said to be somewhere between 2 and 2.6 million unique hires each year in agriculture.”
About 25 percent of those work in dairy and other livestock industry, and about 75 percent are foreign-born.
“We can say with confidence,” Regelbrugge reported, “that virtually no American is coming forward today crossing the threshold of a personnel office at a farm and applying to do production work in any aspect of labor intensive agriculture. Virtually no one from the domestic workforce.”
Reasons include location, education and having other options.
Regelbrugge believes at least half of foreign-born workforce employed in the U.S., is “document challenged.”
Nearly 60 percent of this workforce have children, with a majority of those children being U.S. born.
The number of foreign-born employees in domestic employment, hospitality, restaurant and other positions is huge, and Regelbrugge pointed out that if these foreign-born workers are deemed unemployable, it will create an enormous impact on the U.S. economy.
About one-third of imports are already taking the place of U.S. produce due to a shortage of Ag labor.
Interestingly, Regelbrugge noted that the U.S. and Mexico are “incredibly intertwined.”
“We are trading in both directions across that border line, a billion and a half dollars a day.”
Regelbrugge spoke about legislation that is tied up and seems to be going nowhere. However, he says there is some hope because of powerful, large dairy farm owners involved in politics that care about the industry.
“There are some targeted legislative fixes to H-2A that could see the light of day.”
And although there have been some recent divisions in the ag industry, he believes that all agricultural producers need to stick together to bring some resolution to the table.
“Ultimately, if we’re not united as an industry it’s 10 times harder to get anything done.”
Regelbrugge said a hand full of appointees and agencies like the department of homeland security are “controlling a lot of bridges.”
“We’ve got to either cross those bridges or ford the streams or find a detour if we want to get any of these things done.”
Jason Karszes addressed strategies helping to offset rising labor costs and advised on five management areas to focus on including better management of labor hours and effectiveness.
“Where’s opportunity?” Karszes asked. “Where are our labor hours going?”
Decreasing labor hours by improving efficiency and taking advantage of custom services and joint-ventures can improve your bottom line.
“Look at all of your options,” recommends Karszes.
Tom Wall, creator of the Details for Dairy training video series, Dairy Interactive Milker Training software, and the latest employee management software DairyCOR, challenged attendees to look at their management, look at the “culture” of their farm and look at themselves as leaders.
“What’s it like working for you?” he asked. “What example are you setting?”
He emphasized training and retaining a skilled farm workforce.
“What is your employee turnover like at your farm? That’s one easy indicator to know what your culture is like.”
Retaining good, mature, team playing employees will save you money and is key in the industry.
Wall said requirements that employees want include order and clarity, respect and opportunity.
“We’ve got to value our top performers.” Be consistent and predictable.
Changing old habits and creating new, healthy habits will have a positive impact on your dairy.
“Our lives change when our habits change. We’re thinking results and we’ve got to really start digging into our habits.”
Discipline and accountability are also key. Wall said to look in the mirror and hold yourself accountable as the leader and core of your team. “It all starts with you.”
Kim Bremmer, nationally recognized motivational agriculture speaker, shared experiences and ideas for producers to tell their story and answer the tough questions.
“Know your Ag story,” she advises. “Communicate with EASE. Answer tough questions with truth.”
Bremmer’s E.A.S.E. Method encourages positive communication.
“Engage in conversation,” said Bremmer. “Acknowledge all questions. Share your story. Earn trust.”
Bremmer spoke of incidents where people have approached her and accused the industry of mismanagement of antibiotics and other issues. She said to keep your wits about you. She begins these conversations with a simple reply that fits all of those situations.
“I understand your concern’ There is so much misinformation out there.”
“Of course I treat my sick animals with antibiotics. I do the same with my children,” is one positive approach she uses.
A friendly smile and truthful answers have won over many people — and Bremmer emphasizes the ripple effect this has, since these people tell their friends.
Kendra Lamb and Joe Swyers participated in a panel discussion of how they have built stronger relationships with their neighbors and the public in general by educating them and opening their doors with farm tours.
Lamb, former dairy princess and accomplished speaker, developed a local newsletter and uses a web page and social media to reach folks. She has an ever-expanding group of “followers.”
Swyers related his personal experience with local public schools when a NYS Common Core accepted publication-promoting misconceptions of modern dairies, was used in his daughter’s classroom.
Unable to achieve results through meetings with teachers, he persisted by going through the appropriate channels. This included obtaining help from Livingston County CCE and NYAAC Director Jessica Ziehm. Finally achieving cooperation from the school superintendent, he was able to bring in other representation telling the true ag story.
“Don’t forget to use your resources when you get in a puzzling position,” advised Lamb.
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