dairy cows
May 13, 2020

COVID-19: Making Lemonade out of Lemons

 |  By: Aidan Connolly

The importance of agriculture, and our food system, has never been clearer to the world than now. The scale of the crisis is enormous but are there positive actions that dairy farmers have made and can use post-virus? Make lemonade out of lemons. 

Farmers are the best adaptors; through wars, weather and crisis we have maintained an upward trajectory in productivity and efficiency. 

Crises however creates new mental muscles that once exercised give us skills and abilities we can keep for the rest of our lives. Here are 7 examples

1) It’s time for farming to embrace on-line (no, really this time!)

Even as the world has moved on-line farming has been slow because ‘We’ve always done it this way’.

Biosecurity changes all that. Should strange people or trucks be allowed to turn up on your farm? Why spend days chasing replacement parts for equipment, find new customers for your produce or meet Doctors, Lawyers face-to-face? What would you do if you could never meet your suppliers or your customers in person again? The explosion of Zoom & online trading platforms shows what is possible. Isn’t it time to make on-line your default standard, and not slide back into old practices? 

2) Train and retrain yourself and your team

In a world with COVID those who can learn online have a distinct advantage and full computer literacy has become a basic minimum. Do all your employees have it? 

The current lockdown is the ideal opportunity for all to embrace online courses, learn languages/ skills, acquire certifications. Should the dictum for your farm employees be ‘don’t return post-Corona virus with the same skill set’?

3) Time to bury the hatchet, repair fences 

So much of what we do and accomplish in farming is based on cooperation rather than competition, but some of us love ‘to make more money or lose less than the neighbour’. Competition even within families leads to poor decisions, which hurt everyone, with emotional and financial costs. During Covid many of us have reached out to estranged family, friends, by phone or email so isn’t it time to repair your business ‘fences’ too. You can never have too many friends in farming. Change it.

4) Human talent & customer loyalty

Labor on farms, and worker retention, has never been so difficult as salaries increase and the lure of physically easier work in cities. Equally customers for our food have seemed ‘transactional’; choosing suppliers based on price. 

COVID could change this, a window of opportunity to create solid teams and a clear direction for your farm business. Employee and customer loyalty could be a positive outcome of this crisis. 

5) Can we do it cheaper, better? 

Past crises show us that it is critical to act early and decisively to cut costs, grasp nettles, find ways towards new efficiencies. Do it decisively and do it once. 

On farm this means looking at your team, management. Do you have the right people on board? Does Technology allow us to do things differently, cheaper? A crisis creates the impetus to address issues that will never be addressed when things are easier. Why wait?

6) Work life balance 

The nature of farming is that farmers can work and be at home. As farms consolidate farmers become managers and work-life balance has deteriorated. Reflecting on this during the lockdown the pandemic gives a glimpse of our mortality. Will we change our attitude to work, and the pursuit of material happiness? Certainly, something to consider as confinement caused by the virus recedes. 

7) Change is Good 

What changes could you make to become more resilient? Technology offers extraordinary opportunities. Can you manage your farm remotely, using cameras and sensors? Could you use artificial intelligence to make better decisions? Consider 3-D printing to replace equipment parts? Virtual reality to teach and train new team members and see best practices from farms around the world? Robots to milk cows? Camera’s, such as Cainthus, and machine learning to reduce errors and eliminate mistakes?

Embrace them.