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Lemons to Lemonade

Dr. David Kohl, Professor Emeritus Agricultural and Applied Economics, Virginia Tech University

In a recent webcast to the LEAD Fellowship Program at the University of Maryland, a fun exercise was developed to solicit interaction. The group was divided into six virtual chat rooms to discuss one question: 

As agricultural leaders, what do you see as some of the positive outcomes or opportunities from the COVID-19 black swan event? 

The program participants and alumni were instructed to think about the agriculture industry and their business, family and personal lives in their discussion. After 10 minutes of deliberation, this well-trained, stellar group concluded the following. 

The United States agriculture industry needs to share how being good stewards of the soil, water and environment provides a global competitive advantage. The breeding ground for many of the recent viruses are in areas of the world that have marginal water and soil health. Being good stewards of the soil, water and environment can be a teachable moment to a society that often misunderstands agriculture. Healthy soil and water results in healthier plants, animals, humans and overall environment. As the old saying goes, “Do not let a good crisis go to waste.” This black swan event is an opportunity to improve the image of the agriculture industry to society. 

Next, there is a place for large, small and more traditional agriculture. The group indicated the balance between large, efficient and optimal-sized operations must also be balanced with smaller, more diversified businesses. This provides resiliency and flexibility in meeting the needs of the marketplace. 

This black swan event has provided an opportunity to restructure the business model to align with the marketplace. Whether it is serving local markets or adding flexibility in production and processing systems, meeting the changing needs of consumers will be the call of order for the future. Reaching out to the customer and informing them about production, processing and distribution systems can close the gap between the agriculture industry and the general public. 

The group was adamant that education will be a focus in the future. Education’s ability to improve business and personal financials and to develop a better understanding of risk management will be critical. This group was ready to take “the bull by the horns” in connecting the gaps that often occur by providing input to local, state and federal politicians to increase their understanding of the marketplace.  

Finally, one of the participants was a recent graduate of Farm Credit University's Ag Biz Planner. He provided gracious thanks and indicated the program was valuable in providing a business and financial framework to take the proverbial lemon and turn it into lemonade. His comments were the icing on the cake for me! However, this goes beyond me and I want to give a shout out to all the education programs for young farmers and ranchers nationwide that provide a framework for growth. 

P.S. 

Some of the group indicated that they were spending more time with their children and family. Another group of participants indicated they were appreciative of teachers. One lender indicated that he was working with poultry farms who had to euthanize birds. Others enjoyed reconnecting on zoom virtually. I enjoyed listening to the virtual chat rooms and the deep discussions. The keywords identified by these current and future leaders were: moving forward, trust, understanding and teamwork! 


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