We are at a crossroads of sorts, one at which change in our industry is needed but few people are available to guide the process. Add to this the competing agendas of the various stakeholders, and I think you can see the problem.
Photo by Courtney Love

Past views of the change process focused on what individuals had to do to effect change, but we now know that things such as organizational memberships, community values and personal beliefs influence how much and what type of change may occur.

There has also been a misguided belief that acceptance of change is somehow congruent with implementation.

I have written about the board’s competing constituent groups — producers, dealers, retailers, consumers — on many occasions, but never including much more than a small mention of the emotional entanglements that most likely would drive (or inhibit) change for them.

This column is going to focus on some of the theories surrounding change and what industry leadership can do to move us forward.

We first have to recognize that not only do individuals in each of the groups have a value set, but the “group” itself is embedded with values. The groups are not neutral when it comes to thinking about needed change.

What the producers see as beneficial to their long-term viability may not match what present-day consumers believe.

And, considering the small volume of dairy sold by retailers when compared to their total store sales, they are not likely to be as sympathetic toward the needs of milk producers as the need for change may dictate.

The question has to be, “Why would anyone in any group of our constituents resist (explicitly or implicitly) a change or innovation that would benefit a large group of individuals and potentially have a sizable positive impact on the economy of the commonwealth?”

Change in the dairy industry — however you define or describe that — requires interaction and integration of ideas, jointly explored potential solutions, and sincere efforts at compromise. For these things to happen there has to be a series of steps that begin with the realization that change is necessary.

This is not always easy and must occur on an individual level as well as in “the group.” In other words, it isn’t just necessary for individual owners of a processing company to accept that change is needed; the majority of companies must believe the same thing.

A second but no less important step is for someone or some organization to lead the efforts to communicate, bringing people together to brainstorm about necessary changes, considering all opinions and ideas, and weighing each against potential costs and benefits.

I need to digress somewhat at this point. We are talking about large-scale industry changes here, not individual company changes. The best place to begin is to develop a picture of what the industry needs to look like, what it needs to grow, and how government and Milk Marketing Board constituent groups need to individually change to make that vision a reality.

This is what I see as the greatest sticking point — the individual constituent groups have individual needs (too often focused upon) but they are there and have to be considered. How to be considerate of those needs when we have not characteristically adopted strategies to benefit the whole at a sacrifice to some is a serious challenge.

Beginning with the vision, however, enables each group to act as part of a “whole,” or a larger structure with interdependent others and then begin to develop solutions and a plan that works by give and take.

I don’t believe those of us who care so much about the industry can even think about developing a plan for change until we conduct some internal research to learn about the value systems and beliefs of the constituent groups.

An understanding of those, how they affect any group and organizational behaviors and statements, and where conflicts exist between values and beliefs of the groups, is necessary to even begin the process.

The Milk Marketing Board and staff are reacting to the recent Farm Bureau members’ decision on the over-order premium by adopting a listening posture. We also have spoken to legislators, cooperative administrators and others with intent to listen more.

Our chair has indicated that the situation is serious enough to possibly hold another series of listening sessions around the state. I am also in favor of some smaller, structured focus groups at which we could gain information on some key specific points of interest and contention.

Change is about learning, learning that what works for producers may have negative effects on consumers. What is valued by large-scale, regional processors may conflict with those things valued by our many family-owned processors in the commonwealth.

I continue to mull all this over and I hope to be part of a beginning change process before I leave PMMB.

We are always available to respond to questions and concerns. I would love to hear your thoughts about industry changes. I can be reached at 717-210-8244 or by email at chardbarge@pa.gov.

Look also

The slowest dance on Capitol Hill, the writing of a new Farm Bill, gained tempo May 1 when both the House and Senate Ag committees released versions of their bills.

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