From my December 2013 Column in the Cheese Reporter.
Maybe its the time of year, but I wanted to share one email I got with you, because I think it says more eloquently than I could dream of, what many people may be thinking these days, but never gets covered in the Media.
The writer is shy, or humble, or wise and didn’t want his full name revealed, so we’ll call him Bud, and say only that he lives in Kentucky. In his own words:
“Dan, Hope you are well. I always enjoy your comments and often forward them on to folks I know in business for themselves. This last one in the Cheese Reporter reminded me of years of efforts to organize milk hauling routes to improve fuel efficiency for the Co-op and its producers.
Trouble was no one trusted the other guy. Guess they thought somebody would get the edge. The end result is now there are so few routes in KY that none of them have much opportunity to have an efficient route.
Got a chance Sunday to run to Louisville and attend the national Jersey sale and look over the love of my life – a line up of excellent Jersey cattle all dolled up and looking good. On our way home my wife and I chatted about how ironic it was to display that high quality of livestock in a state where the elements and economics of dairy production have all but expelled the industry from most of the state.
For those of us my generation or older it is hard to trust any effort of efficiency knowing full well that in the end it is just one more hole in the wall where competition defines extinction for smaller operations. I was excited about AI for years until I realized it had destroyed any local market for my registered Jersey bulls making them virtually useless to the average farmer.
The American Dream has been downsized
When we left the dairy business in 2002 it was because the economics of efficiency had reached a scale that we had tired of competing in it, after over 50 years. It had little to do with our cost of living or our debt load or of our love for production AG, but the simple reality that if you do it good and big, somebody will always come around who is bigger and better and more efficient, at least in the short run.
It is impossible to reach a comfortable level of production and fit management and resources to it without constantly assuming more debt and responsibility to expand, and cash flow.
Over and over this theory has played out in virtually every segment of our society to the point where the average Joe can hardly trust any theories on long term success based on efficient production. Let me hasten to say that I have always been anxious to cooperate and work together but I guess the larger question is whom do we save for. Are we helping the plight of the producer so that his load is lighter or are we simply lowering the value of his production in the market so that the handler and consumer improves his position and the producer loses a small share of his presence.
I realize that we live in a capitalistic society and that the consumer wants the best value for the dollar.
The question becomes, what is the best value for the dollar. Expanding disposable income or maintaining local family farms who are active in their communities and pour time and dollars back into the communities where they operate.
Two models, neither more Noble
Now we have succeeded in creating two spheres of production – the large scale demonized AG producer and the over priced “family farm” model – neither of which display a more noble call but both of which give the illusive middle man a bucket full of opportunities to capitalize on.
Its not just in Dairy
My next older brother is a semi retired mechanical engineer. He often talks of the change of climate in his work since the early 90’s when the plants were bought out by investment groups. Trained folks got replaced by temps, regular maintenance and long term investment type things were scaled back in favor of short term fixes in areas where division sales may be on the horizon, etc.
My oldest brother runs a pain clinic – TMJ work, etc(jaw pain, etc.) He has a whole set of opinions about making the medical business pay in a private operation, most of which he says are pretty unsuccessful. Volume, volume, volume- I have long wished he would give it up for a slower pace but he keeps ramming the wall with long hours in a stressful environment, says he can’t afford to quit, and can hardly afford to keep going, so who knows?
Guess I will shut up now. Some of this rambling comes from my age and my wish we all lived on small farms and knew our neighbors and some comes from observed facts over the years.
On a very positive note, nothing will ever replace the dairy where we raised our family and worked with my folks. It was a wonderful adventure of which I have no regrets but that much of those days are past. Guess now I know how the black smith felt when cars came around. At the end of the day I am just thankful to have had that opportunity to do what I loved with family and friends for most of my life. We were very blessed.
Have a good day Dan and thanks for your ear-“
And thank you Bud, by heavens, it is people like you whose stories are ignored in the media. We need more voices like you, and your brothers and friends and less from Wall Street, and the investment banks. It makes me thankful to know you, and to have helped you in some small way. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving with that family of yours!..