Many of us pride ourselves in owning and operating multigenerational businesses. It’s our goal to run a thriving enterprise to financially support our families in the near-term and to be outstanding caretakers over the long haul so one day we have the opportunity to pass the family farm on to the next generation. The latter definitely requires us to be outstanding stewards of all our farms’ precious resources.
While no one bristles at the notion of being good caretakers and practicing good stewardship on our family farms, the word “sustainability” doesn’t sit well with many of us. Not only do some farmers have skepticism about the sustainability topic, some readers have shared that the word is overused, misused, and even abused. We get it — none of us want to be told what to do, and it can feel as if the sustainability movement is being forced down our throats.
Let’s toss sustainability to the curb for the moment and refocus on stewardship. Who among us would argue the following statements about our respective dairy farms?
“I want to be the best steward of my farm’s land and water resources.”
“I want to be the best steward of the employees, consultants, and vendors who work on my farm.”
“I want to be the best steward of my farm’s produce and the products ultimately purchased and eaten by consumers.”Nearly every dairyman and dairy woman would answer those questions with a resounding, “Yes!” If that’s the case, then you believe in stewardship. However, a communication hurdle remains: Consumers don’t relate to the term stewardship. Customers care about sustainability. Since our customers care about sustainability, we should care about sustainability, too. Like it or not, we must speak the language of our customers and share how each of us runs a sustainable farm operation.
Linguistics aside, a number of dairy farmers are equally annoyed with the perceived cost associated with sustainability. We would suggest taking a different look at the matter . . . don’t view it as a cost center or an area requiring extra effort. Instead, look at the potential to improve your farm’s profitability. Indeed, efficiency is an evolving metric. The automobile your parents drove was more fuel efficient than the one driven by your grandparents. And the car you drive uses less fuel than your parents’ first car.
Pick your word — sustainability or stewardship — as it’s a trend that’s here to stay. On our Hoard’s Dairyman Farm, we’ll call it stewardship. We’ve been practicing it since 1899.