Center Focus Column

Decision-Making Brings New Beginnings

Spring is the season when we celebrate birth and re-birth on our farms and in the world. It’s a sacred time as we celebrate the re-birth of Jesus, and it’s a joyous time as we watch the flowers start to emerge from the ground after it laid dormant and dead-looking over the winter. It is also a time when all farmers are making many decisions. And, just like with spring, each decision we make offers a chance to bring new life and opportunities to your dairy.

Whether it’s planning your cropping strategy for the coming year or working through a Jaynechange in your marketing plan, all decisions should be made carefully and thoughtfully. Often times, we get so caught up in the day-to-day activities on the farm that we don’t take the time to carefully evaluate our options and make sure we put the planning into our decision-making process that is necessary to ensure we have a well-thought-out strategy for success.

The University of Massachusetts recommends any decision-making process includes seven steps. This can help ensure that the decision made will offer the most satisfying alternative possible. Here are the seven steps they’ve identified:

Step 1) Identify the decision. On a dairy farm, there are daily decisions that can be made quickly and almost automatically, and those that are more significant and impactful on your operation. Being able to quickly identify that a decision has to be made and clearly define the need – or what should result from the decision — is a critical first step to making good decisions.

Step 2) Gather relevant information. Making decisions without having all of the information on how that decision will affect your operation can lead to problems down the road. For instance, should you pick a corn seed variety without knowing what the silage yield and fiber digestibility are? If you do, it could mean the difference between 20 tons per acre and 10. Gathering relevant information requires both internal and external work. Some information you can gather through a self-assessment process, while other information you can gather online, in trade publications or books, and through other people. The most important part is to make sure you have all the information you’ll need to answer how each alternative in this decision will affect your operation.

Step 3) Identify the alternatives. As the information is collected, you will begin to identify possible alternatives or paths you could take in your process. Often times, the information gathering process will also inspire you to use your creativity in constructing new alternatives and options. Make sure you list all of the alternatives. Putting things in writing often helps you clearly define what each alternative is.

Step 4) Weigh the evidence. This is where you use the information you have to carefully consider how each alternative would impact your operation. Would the need you identified be met better if you choose one alternative over another? As you go through the process, one alternative will sift to the top of  having the highest potential of helping you achieve your goal. UMass recommends placing the alternatives in priority order, based on your own evaluation of how they address the need and your goals for the operation.

Step 5) Choose among the alternatives. This step can be made easily once you have listed your alternatives in priority order after weighing all of the evidence.

Step 6) Take action. Implement your decision and know that it’s based on careful thought and consideration of all the alternatives.

Step 7) Review your decision and its consequences. Hindsight is always 20/20, but reflecting on the results of the decision can help you evaluate whether it has helped you resolve the need you identified. If the decision hasn’t resolved the need, going through the process again or repeating certain steps will help you explore additional alternatives and options.

For day-to-day decisions made on the farm, this process can be quick and painless. But for more complex decisions, carefully walking through all of the steps can lead to better decisions in the end. The Center for Dairy Excellence has resources to help you bring additional insight into this process. Two grant opportunities are focused on getting the expertise around your table to go through all of these steps.

The Dairy Decisions Consultant Program offers up to $3,500 for farms to work with a consultant who can gather information about your farm operation and business to help you evaluate decisions around future farm viability. Using a consultant can be especially valuable if you are looking to improve profitability or are considering a new enterprise or reinvestment in the operation. Currently the grant is covering the full cost of the consultation, which can offer provide a path forward for producers who are struggling to make those key decisions.

The Dairy Profit Team Program offers grants for farms to put a team of advisors around the table to address profitability, transition and transformation. For farms that want to improve profitability, up to $2,000 in matching funds are available, while farms looking at a business transformation can apply for up to $5,000 and farms in transition could receive $3,000. All of these team programs focus on improving the decisions-making process.

Spring reminds of new beginnings, and every decision we make on the dairy is a chance for a new beginning or a new approach to achieving our goals. Be sure you are putting the time and effort into making the most of every decision. Using the center’s resources can help. Click here to learn more.