April 3, 2020

Fear: Just Another F Word

 |  By: Anna-Lisa Laca

This is the hardest column I’ve written in my career. I’d be lying if I said anything different. Even just two weeks ago, when I wrote a column for the April issue of Dairy Herd Management, the words came easier. At the time, we were in the early days of COVID-19 and the market implications of the pandemic were unknown. While the long-term impacts of the new virus on the dairy industry are still unclear, the short-term blows are crystal clear. 

Markets have crashed. Schools and restaurants are closed. Even a handful of processing plants have suspended operations. At press time, economists estimate there’s somewhere between 5% to 10% more milk on the market than processing capacity. Farms that can survive a Class III milk price below $15 for an extended period of time will be forced to reduce production or dump milk. Many are already dumping milk. 

It’s by all measure a scary time. As I write this, it’s becoming clear we’ll be asked to reduce the milk production on our own farm. Friends, we have two options: give into our fears or cling to the facts. 

The fear is easy to identify. In your head, it might sound something like it does in mine: “There’s no way we’ll survive this.”

What are the facts? We will survive this because we are more than farmers, even though it doesn’t always feel that way. What else is true? Milk prices are well below where farmers and analysts alike thought we’d be in 2020. The Dairy Margin Coverage program will likely pay out March through December. If necessary, restructuring your balance sheet could free enough working capital to get you through this. 

I’ll be honest, I’ve never been in this role during a market crash like we’re seeing right now. Fortunately, that’s not the case for my colleague and mentor Jim Dickrell. His recommendation? Take care of yourself first. There’s a lot of advice circulating about how you, as a farm business owner and employer, need to step up to keep your employees healthy, informed, motivated and productive.

But that’s of little help if you are feeling overwhelmed by the COVID-19 crisis, coming on the heels of almost five years of low prices, labor shortages and constant stress.

“Recognizing and dealing with the emotions of disappointment, frustration and even fear is difficult,” says Bob Milligan of Dairy Strategies, LLC. “First, recognize these emotions are real and should not be ignored; you certainly should not feel guilty about or be afraid of emotions. They are real; they are you.” 

To be an effective leader, you have to overcome your fear. Easier said than done right? Well, one thing I’ve learned is an antidote for fear is gratitude. On the page to the right, we’ve included a worksheet from CEO coach Mary Kelly that can help you map out what you can be grateful for. 

As one of my favorite songs says “Fear, you don't own me. There ain't no room for you in this story.” I’m not going to let fear control my actions. After all, it’s just another f word.