Bohnert_Karen-133x138
Karen Bohnert

A new year, a new decade, and a new start. I think I’m not alone when I say, “Bring on 2020!”

Karen Bohnert

2019 was a year that had more downturns than upswings and more challenges than answers. A year of low milk prices and rising input costs. A year where weather made the headlines more times than not, and not for a good reason. Challenges mounted, as did the stress, and for us, a barn fire just about caused us to throw in the towel.

That is the part I have not spoken about yet. A week after the barn fire this past summer, there was talk by family members to sell the cows. Then a week after that, the dialogue began in our home. I allowed them to vent, but I encouraged them to pause long enough so that a pivotal decision wasn’t being made during our crisis.

Exhausted, but like you, we still managed to trudge forward. Since planting was delayed, it was no surprise that harvest began six weeks late. During the thick of getting crops out, in-between the rain and snow, the work hours were extended well into the night, and the fuses were cut short. I might have said one late October evening, “How about we sell those cows?” The quick response back was, “Oh no, you had your chance to get out!”

When the going gets tough, you have to get tough, too. This is a message that I was reminded of.

A new decade with the start of 2020 means new opportunities are ahead. Preparation and the willingness to shift our gears for what is coming is the key.

If you are like me, worries rise when change is inevitable. And, if you are like me, you might just be worried that you won’t know if you are making the right choices or apprehensive that you are just setting yourself up for failure.

The truth is, you won’t know if you are making the right or wrong choices. Life is about trial and error. I think to some extent, we all know that, and we all have become pretty good at that. However, with the way the dairy industry has gone, the room for error is slim and the time for trial is little.

Even with that being said, I kindly remind us all to slow down. Decisions don’t have to be made overnight. Bring decision makers, family partners, and outside key influencers to the table. There is something really powerful and really beautiful when passionate and witty minds talk about both the opportunities and challenges that present themselves.

Be open to ideas. A couple of years ago, I would have never said robotic milking is for our farm, but now we talk about this idea with intention and openness. Take on other ideas that can impact decisions, both big and small, with the same mindful consideration.

Let me also state once more — slow down, and hit pause. On our farm, we schedule our milkers to work four shifts in a row and then two shifts off. For example, an employee works Monday through Thursday and then gets Friday and Saturday off before starting their next four-day shift.

When our employees come back after having two days off, they’re fresh. They have energy. They smile. And in all honestly, they create a more positive environment, which benefits both the cows and the people around them.

Unfortunately, the owners on our farm can’t take that kind of time off, and quite honestly, it’s been months since they have had a day away. That simply is too long. I know that work trumps vacation time, but you cannot be first-rate at your work if your work is all that you are. So, if you set one goal for 2020, I would encourage you to carve a much-needed and well-deserved vacation day that will allow you to hit that reboot button.

Listen, I don’t have a crystal ball that can tell the future. I don’t know what 2020 has in store for me, but what I do have is perspective.

Think of all that has changed over the last 10 years. The blueprint of your dairy, of your family, and of our industry. The changes have quickly unraveled, and I believe the changes that are yet to come over the next decade will come at lightning speed. It is hard to know what those changes are for sure, but what history tells me is that the look of our dairy farm and our industry will be vastly differently a decade from now.

What I also know is change happens whether we want it to or not. I’ll be the first to admit that the unknown can be scary, but to me, what is even scarier than change is not being able to be a part of an industry that we love.

So, let me leave you with two words that my late father once told me: “Fall forward.” By that, I mean lean into conversations with a mindfulness and be open to saying yes.

Don’t let fear of change paralyze you. Failed experiments bring us one step closer to success. The margin for failure is slim, but the margin for not falling forward with opportunity is slimmer yet.

Around the Kitchen Table is a regular column in Hoard's Dairyman. The author and her husband work in partnership with family on a 500-cow dairy in East Moline, Ill.