EAST LANSING, Mich. — In 1776, days before Christmas, American patriot Thomas Paine, author the pamphlet “Common Sense,” wrote words that ring true today. Though in a far different context, Paine wrote, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Now, 241 years later, dairy farmers are being tried hard by persistent low milk prices.
Paine continued to write, “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” Like the soldier of the continental army, dairy farmers, despite the adversity and struggles, have not shrunk from the high calling of producing a high quality food product. They deserve the love and thanks of every consumer.
With these words, Paine continued his treatise: “Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value.”
Those words also capture the love and commitment for the farm, that whether founded generations ago or in this generation, has been built by families through many trying times. It explains why farmers love the series of aerial photos on their wall that show the growth of their business, even while showing the old places that hold so many memories.
While dairy farming has been difficult, it is not fair to place it in the context of the revolution for a new country, but it does no disrespect to those patriots to recognize the struggle that is going on for farm families.
The soldiers of the revolution faced setbacks, wounds and even defeats. They continued for love of freedom and country. Dairy farmers are facing setbacks, wounds and even defeats, and endure because of love of family, industry and heritage.
Then as now, soldiers depended on each other. They backed up one another and encouraged one another. Dairy farmers need that same camaraderie today. Farmers need one another for help, encouragement and support. I encourage you to reach out to your peers, to help, and to be helped.
Warfare demands more than hard work, it requires an effective strategy. Dairy farmers today need to re-evaluate strategy, checking everything. Are there individual enterprises that are inefficient, too time consuming or not productive enough? How does the business need to change from how it is being operated today?
Farmers, like soldiers, depend on good intelligence. For farmers, that means seeking information, understanding that there is much to learn about business, employees, crops and even cows. Intelligence, often because it represents a different perspective, can make the difference between losses or wins. Seek advice, consultation and constructive critique, especially from a different perspective.
Leadership is critical for military success, but sometimes that leadership has to come from the foot soldier. It requires leadership in everyday action by those who are willing to take a risk to advance the operation. Dairy farmers should not wait around for leaders to take leadership, but should themselves exercise leadership for their business. Leadership is not easy, but it is required.
Thomas Paine wrote to encourage fearful hearts and to call good men and women to action. While these words of Paine’s did not come from his pamphlet “Common Sense,” they are indeed good sense. These are the times that are trying the souls of dairymen and women. Take heart, and take action.
— Phil Durst, Michigan State University Extension
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