This is the time of year when families across the US gather together to give thanks for their blessings and celebrate each other. Over the years, our family has occasionally started out Thanksgiving Dinner with having everyone share something that they are thankful for. Usually it brings about a couple of eye rolls, but everyone begrudgery comes up with something.
In dairy, we spend so much time lately focused on the challenges we face – low milk prices, challenging weather patterns, uncertainty about our future. It’s easy to let our problems overshadow the blessings we do have in our industry. However, I would challenge every one of us who work in dairy to make a list of what you are most grateful for in this industry.
Someone once said, “When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the light, for your life, for your strength. Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason to give thanks, the fault lies in yourself.”
So, what reason do we in dairy have to be thankful right now? There are so many of them. Here are just a few that I came up with.
- Our Product. When I was young, everyone knew that milk was nature’s most nearly perfect food. It did not change. It is still the most complete source of nutrients naturally available and one of the most versatile products on the marketplace. Name one other commodity that can be made into as many different products as milk can. I cannot think of any.
- A Growing Customer Base. By 2050, the world population is expected to be nearly 10 billion people. The largest growing segment of the population is beyond our US borders, with 90 percent of the mouths we feed outside of the US. As populations grow and developing countries gain more wealth, dairy proteins will continue to grow in demand.
- The Opportunity to Get Better. What the dairy industry has been able to do over the past 50 years is nothing short of amazing. In the 1960s, the average milk production per cow was just under 10,000 pounds. Having that continued on improvement is one reason why so many people are so passionate about what they do.
- The Innovation in Our Industry. Getting better isn’t just occurring on the farm side. It’s also happening on the product side. If you look back just ten years ago, half the products on the market today wouldn’t have been there. Cheese chips, lactose-free yogurt, fruit and dairy nutraceuticals and many more products are emerging, all using dairy proteins as the base.
- The Trust Farmers Have Earned. Despite the negative rhetoric we hear in the news, farmers are still rated as one of the most highly trusted professions. A study from the Center for Food Integrity shows that farmers are ranked No. 3 among stakeholders consumers trust the most to ensure their food is safe.
- Our Resiliency. One of the most remarkable qualities of the farm community is our ability to be resilient. Resiliency is when people move past their fears and focus on solutions to rebound stronger than they were before a crisis. Right now I am seeing more and more people focusing on solutions and moving forward. It will take time, but ultimately we will be in a better place because of that momentum.
- Our Work Ethic. My sons complain often how they have to work while very few of their friends do. I always tell them they will thank me for it someday. They don’t like that answer, but it’s true. The work ethic you learn growing up on a dairy farm or working on a farm is hard to replicate and even harder to teach.
- The Opportunity to Work with Family. I grew up working along side my parents and my siblings. Because we worked so closely together, we fought a lot – over whose turn it was to milk, who forgot to clean the water buckets, or who didn’t get out of bed in time. But we also had a lot of fun, and we learned to appreciate, respect and depend on each other.
- The Community That Surrounds Us. That sense of family within dairy extends far beyond our individual families. The people I work with now in the industry are people I went to college with and people who grew up being involved in the same 4-H and FFA programs that I did. Whether they are on the farm or in the industry, they are dedicated and passionate about what they do because they want to see that dairy community continue to thrive.
- The Farmer. What I am most thankful for in our industry is the farmers who work hard to carry on a heritage passed down for many generations while trying to figure out where they fit in an ever-changing, fast-paced and increasingly more volatile industry. If you are a farmer, be proud of who you are and thankful for the heritage you have been given.
So, as you gather around the Thanksgiving table, take a few moments to ask yourself what you are most thankful for. This has been a challenging year, and we hope for better days to come. But, despite the challenges, we still have so many reasons to give thanks.
On behalf of the Center for Dairy Excellence team, I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. As always, we are here to be a resource to individual dairy farms and the broader industry. To learn more, call us at 717-346-0849 or visit us at centerfordairyexcellence.org.
Editor’s Note: This column is written by Jayne Sebright, executive director for the Center for Dairy Excellence, and published monthly in the Lancaster Farming Dairy Reporter.