Dairy Information: Center Focus Column

Learn, Lead and Believe

By John Frey
Executive Director

Each year around Christmas time, a number of popular movies are shown in theatres and on television over and over. One in particular which our family enjoys watching each year is the Polar Express. For those who haven’t seen the movie, it is a 2004 American computer animated musical Christmas film based on the children’s book of the same title.

FreyThe setting of the movie is Christmas Eve in the late-1950s, and the main character is a young  boy who witnesses a train called the Polar Express, that is about to embark to the North Pole. The boy boards the train where he meets other children who also had the courage to climb aboard. The conductor of the train displays a great talent for punching the tickets and punching out important words or phrases of encouragement.  As the boy and his two friends exit the Polar Express at the end of the movie, their tickets are returned with the words Learn, Lead, and Believe and are told, “The thing about trains… it doesn’t matter where they’re going. What matters is deciding to get on.”

As we approach the end of the year, I can’t help but draw parallels from this story to life in the dairy business. There has been much to learn, opportunities to lead, and reasons to believe; and I would like to share brief accounts of each. An especially valuable lesson I learned recently was the result of a conversation I had with a dairy farmer at a meeting. The meeting was one of many meetings held this fall on the USDA Margin Protection Program.

We were talking about children and family, and I made a comment about the strong dairy margins, the healthy profits many farms realized, and the opportunity these profits provided to renew enthusiasm in the next generation for the dairy business.  He responded, “My goal as a father is to model a positive attitude of contentment irrespective of the dairy markets. The kids are well aware of the financial pressures on a dairy farm and I don’t want to compound these with a negative attitude.” Lesson learned for me from a father who has the right perspective.

Opportunities to lead are all around us and demonstrated by so many dairy producers. While leading at home, in our communities and in our churches is our first responsibility, many dairy producers choose to lead because they view it as a responsibility and the risk of time away from the farm is worth the reward. In 2014, I watched as dairy producers gave of their time on our center and center foundation board, the boards of PDMP, the Dairyman’s Association, milk cooperatives, dairy promotion, and in so many other industry organizations. My observation is they choose to lead because they know by leading, they hold their industry direction in their hands as much as in others hands. They also know leading presents an opportunity to learn.

I am reminded of former president Theodore Roosevelt who said, “The worst thing you can do is nothing.” My hat is off to those dairy producers who lead at home, in community and church, and in our industry, and as in the story of the Polar Express, choose simply to get on the train and lead. I would encourage dairy producers all across our region to seek opportunities to become involved and to lead. If there doesn’t appear to be opportunities in your area, start something. Some years ago in Lancaster, a group of ag industry stakeholders formed an ag council. The group meets routinely to make agriculture a better place in the region. I have seen young leaders emerging on this council and as a result, their awareness of the industry and the opportunities within it has broadened beyond what they would ever thought possible. Start something in 2015, and if you would like any help or suggestions, I welcome an opportunity to discuss the possibilities with you.

Finally, in the fictitious story of the Polar Express, after seeing the North Pole, the children believe. At Christmas long ago, Wiseman and Shepherd traveled to see the Christ child foretold by the prophets and proclaimed by the angels, and declared belief. In 2015, both challenges and opportunities will present themselves. As the dairy farmer declared to me this fall, irrespective of the circumstances, there is every reason to maintain belief we are in an industry filled with opportunity while feeding hungry people around the world.