Dairy producers are used to volatility and uncertainty, but the last couple years have been unimaginable in so many ways. We are approaching 22 months of a pandemic. Whether we’re talking about feed, labor or crop expenses, input costs are significantly higher. The excuse of supply shortage or delivery logistics has become all too frequent. That’s a long list of big challenges. But, as we usher out 2021 and turn the calendar to a new year, we can also take note of the many good things we enjoy in the dairy industry and think about our glass of milk as being half full instead of half empty.
I hope you will indulge me in this Christmas season as I veer from the normal theme of my column to reflect on a few positive attributes of our industry.
My glass begins to fill quickly as I think about the people in the dairy industry. The men and women who get up every morning to milk and feed cows are the lifeblood of this business. It is true these chores look much different than they did when I was a kid. Parlors are much more common and becoming more sophisticated. TMR mixers allow for a uniform diet to be presented to cows. Robots are doing the milking on several farms and even some of the feeding. Yet, even with these advancements, a successful farm still needs the work and passion of people focused on the cows and their well-being.
As our industry evolves, dairy owners and managers wear a lot of hats. The decisions on today’s dairy farm seem to carry greater magnitude and consequences than ever before. While many of these owners and managers are true cow people with innate skills in animal husbandry, their duties often require them to spend significant time outside of the barn. How fortunate we are to work in an industry where so many people share a passion for one key element – the cow. This allows owners and managers to work closely with their farms’ leadership teams to make the best day-to-day decisions. Most dairy farms also depend on a team of trusted advisors to help them achieve their goals. The concepts of community, neighbors and helping each other for the betterment of everyone is alive and well on dairy farms.
We’ve all heard and likely said, “Technology is changing rapidly.” Nowhere is this truer than in the dairy industry. Information is literally at our fingertips. Cows wear devices that provide data more accurately and quickly than ever, allowing farm managers and caretakers to take prompt and precise action. It will be exciting to see where technology takes us in the next 10 years.  
Genetic progress in dairy cattle has allowed us to select for traits well beyond functionality. Our friends in the agronomy genetic sector deserve some credit as well. Some parts of the Midwest would call the 2021 growing season a challenge with a lack of timely rains. Plant breeders have developed hybrids and technology to withstand many of these challenges and avoid the disasters experienced in past years. If you were around for the drought of 1988, you are probably especially thankful for these technologies and the safety net they provide.
The final pour of milk in my cup is a return to some element of normalcy. I’m not suggesting COVID-19 is in the rear-view mirror, but I am thankful we’ve been able to find a balance to get our kids back to school, return to church and have industry events like World Dairy Expo.
It is my sincere hope you find peace and joy in this Advent season as we celebrate the birth of Jesus. God bless the hardworking men and women of the dairy industry.
    Barry Visser is a nutritionist for Vita Plus.