We’ve heard a lot about what the next generation of consumers wants from their dairy products, but what about the next generation of dairy farmers that will run the farms that produce those products? What challenges are they facing, and how will they overcome them?

“Our margin of error is going to decrease. We will have to be even more focused on complete efficiency,” said Tony Lopes during this week’s Connect Summit, noting that being able to make strategic decisions will be critical. Lopes manages operations for his family’s 4,000-cow dairy in California.

Efficiency was also top of mind for two other young farmers as they considered how their roles will evolve over the next 30 years. That’s true not only in terms of size and scale of dairy operations, but in the tools and expertise that managers have to help their employees take better care of the cows, added Brent Wickstrom of California’s Wickstrom Jersey Farm.

In Washington, where strict overtime laws add further to the labor burden farmers across the country face, time- and labor-saving technologies will help them get the job done more efficiently. Kristyn Mensonides, whose family milks 12,000 cows, sees that coming down the pipeline. “What used to be a five-person job is going to be a two-person job with the new technologies,” she said. “You see that already in the crop industry.” She also predicts that the upcoming workforce will be less tied to one company and move around more, forcing farms to improve their training protocols.

Big needs and big goals

Labor is just one obstacle that these managers will continue to deal with. Wickstrom specifically pointed to the lack of water that western dairies such as his must handle and how that will affect the layout of the U.S. dairy industry. “Wherever there’s water, the cattle will move,” he said.

Lopes agreed and added regulatory pressure as a space they will have to monitor over the course of their careers as consumers and governments dictate tighter energy, waste, and water use. Animal care standards will continue to be under scrutiny, as well.

Mensonides noted that for those reasons, farmers of her generation will need to be even more involved in promoting their business with governments as well as consumers. In addition to her desire to continuously improve the farm, Mensonides said her goals in the industry include being involved with agricultural advocacy organizations to share the truth about farming.

Wickstrom and Lopes shared a clear vision of the difference they’re striving for in the industry by making their farms the best possible places to work for their employees while providing excellent cow care. Though investments in technologies will be necessary to reduce their labor quantity, they will still need high-quality managers, explained Wickstrom. Investing in their people and ensuring new employees can jump right into the farm dynamics help make this happen.

For Lopes, building a culture where employees feel engaged, welcomed, and challenged to grow is the goal. At the same time, they want to be able to eliminate negative events that impact a cow’s ability to thrive. This can be accomplished with the technologies and data available today, and those of the future he believes.

While dairy faces challenges ahead, it’s clear that these young people and many more like them are ready to use the tools they have to meet the needs of a growing world.

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2021
October 14, 2021
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