Navigating change: Anticipating, innovating, allocating

Oschner encourages producers at DCHA conference

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    BLOOMINGTON, Minn. − Over the past year, farmers have been faced with many challenges such as the coronavirus pandemic, food shortages and increasing gas and fuel prices.
    “We are living in some very volatile and uncertain times,” Kevin Oschner said.
    Oschner is the president of Agcellerate Consulting Company and the host of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association television program, “Cattlemen to Cattlemen.” He also farms with his family on their beef ranch near Kersey, Colorado.
    Oschner presented, “Navigating the road to the future,” at the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association conference April 13 in Bloomington.
    “The reality is we all deal with change, and I think we have two options for how we approach it,” Oschner said. “We can panic, focus on the problems, throw a pity party and become absolutely paralyzed to any action in progress; or, we can pause, brainstorm the possibilities, pivot and commit ourselves to prevail. The fact of the matter is our decisions drive these outcomes.”
    When looking at the future of the dairy industry, high input costs, labor shortages and packing constraints are a few of the obstacles farmers will face in their dairy businesses. As farmers consider these, Oschner provided three ways any company or organization can navigate change, by anticipating, innovating and allocating.
    “Anticipate how the changing landscape is going to impact our business, ask questions and imagine new ways of doing things,” he said. “We also need innovation in the agricultural industry at large. And ultimately, how do we allocate, or where are we going to put our chips?”
    Oschner said the key to being a successful dairy farmer is to anticipate consequences.
    “Can you anticipate consequences in your business?” Oschner said. “As strategic planners, we have to navigate turns in the road.”
    As an example outside of the dairy industry, Oschner spoke of Microsoft and its near-miss with internet. The technology company realized the impact the internet would have on their business and proceeded to adapt to that change.
    As farmers, the need to adapt to change is not all that different.
    “You have to hire a lot of right people who think in a lot of different ways and then you got to be able to identify the right challenge and put some energy behind the right solutions,” Oschner said.
    There are consequences for not facing the challenges appropriately. Producers are faced with challenges such as changing consumer behaviors and preferences that have an increased focus on sustainability, increased political and social activism, and ongoing labor shortages.
    Studies show that only 25% of consumers are familiar with how cattle are raised, yet 70% of people said how food is grown impacts their purchasing decisions, Oschner said.
    “People want to feel good about what they eat,” he said. “In fact, when producers think about sustainability, they immediately think of environmental sustainability; however, the majority of consumers think about animal welfare. Optics matter.”
    Oschner also said there will be increased political and social activism.
    In Colorado, the agriculture industry has had to work through challenges of beef versus plant-based or lab-made food products. To combat the promotion of other products, there was a movement to consume meat, Oschner said.  
    The other large challenge Oschner sees the industry facing is labor. A survey from Purdue University reported that 66% of agricultural employers are having difficulty in finding workers to fill the job.
    Oschner said farmers have to be willing to be innovative.
    “For example, the beef on dairy process,” he said. “Farmers took a creative thought such as putting beef embryos in dairy … and put value in that.”
    There are five common skills among innovators, said Oschner. Those individuals associate, question, observe, experiment and network.
    “Get out and network, allow your minds to be challenged. We can learn from people we disagree with,” Oschner said. “If you want to be innovative, be willing to ask tough questions.”
    Farmers need to have a clear vision for their dairy business and provide the appropriate amount of time and resources to see it succeed.  
    “Today, we spread our resources so thin that our focus results in any kind of loss of competitive advantage,” Oschner said. “Where are you putting your money and time?”
    For example, focus should be put on the people and employee side of the business.
    “What if we believe that if we invest more in training, developing, motivating, inspiring and keeping people hitched to the wagon as employees, then it would cover a lot of our problems down the road,” Oschner said.
    Oschner said when faced with challenge and adversity, leaders are people who find a way when there is no way.
    “When the right thing is set in motion, it can cause a domino effect,” he said. “Which domino are you going to push today? Allocate your resources, time, talents and treasures carefully.”

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