Jan. 1 2013 06:28 AM

Lessons learned and wisdom gained . . . hopefully.

Every event in life is a learning experience, even if what you learn is "I don't want to do that again." The same can be said of 2012. It was a year that flew by but still left many lessons for dairy producers. Here are a few:

1. Debt really is a four-letter word. Anyone who didn't get the message in 2009 knows now that in order to succeed you first have to survive.

2. Big is bad if you don't have feed. Making milk starts with feed, and there's no guarantee there will always be enough of it when and where dairies want it.

3. $20 milk isn't special anymore. Forget about round numbers; margin is everything.

4. Be honest with yourself. Dairying is a business. If a bad outlook is obvious, get out while there's still something left.

5. High beef prices are an amazing genetic tool. Relentless culling of problem cows figures to have positive ripple effects that last forever.

6. Dairying is at war with terrorists. Making it stupidly easy to get onto dairies is an invitation to animal rights spies and cameras.

7. Without exports we die. Over 13 percent of all U.S. milk was sold abroad in 2012. Continued growth of the dairy industry depends on that number increasing.

8. Embrace lower SCC limits. Idaho and Oregon dropped theirs to 400,000 this year and are doing just fine.

9. The rest of the world has money, too. Don't ever plan on seeing $3 corn or $100 hay again. Global demand and ability to pay for them is too high to let it happen.

10. The Mayans were wrong. Or did we just mess up the translation? Let's ignore that possibility and get on with 2013 instead. Happy New Year!