A Return to the Good Ol’ Days?

Before I begin, I must blatantly state that I hardly count myself old enough to remember “the good ol’ days.”

Before I begin, I must blatantly state that I hardly count myself old enough to remember “the good ol’ days.” But, lately, I’ve been hearing many people reference this current economic crisis as a “wake-up” call for our country – a reminder that America’s spending habits and business principles have perhaps gotten out of hand. Or, put another way, have gotten “too big for their own britches” – as they might have said in the good ol’ days.

American businesses – the beef industry included – were on the fast track to bigger and better and, well, bigger. But the economic upheaval of the past few months seems to have put much of that on pause – and I find that refreshing.

Many of us are rethinking our spending, rethinking driving 100 miles to buy groceries when we can get many of the same items locally; and rethinking if bigger really is better. As an example on the corporate level, folks like Wal-Mart are re-evaluating their supercenters. I recently read an article that said they will build fewer of them – and smaller, more efficient stores – in 2009 and 2010.

To me, this says our current “wake up call” may be the chance for agriculture to grab the bull-by-the-horns and rebuild local support.

Let me explain: if rural America is to survive, and if agriculture is to thrive, there needs to be a reconnect. Producers and consumers need to find value in local, sustainable, safe, healthy products. Isn’t that what people love when they reminisce about “the good ol’ days?”

Certainly, this concept isn’t new. Some in agriculture have long been successful in tapping the local market. I recently heard of a dairy on the outskirts of Kansas City that was struggling – and to the point of going out of business after operating as a family business for 60 years. But, instead, this family operation made a bold move and reinvented themselves in June 2003 by switching to processing their own milk on the farm. They then deliver it to stores within about 12 hours – in glass bottles like the good ol’days – so that customers can enjoy the freshest milk possible.

What has the outcome been? Massive success. The milk sells at a premium and frequently sells out. The customers rave about the product – and most importantly, this family business has been preserved. For more about this success story.

Now certainly, this family had to experience naysayers as they contemplated a life-altering change in how they operated their business. And, I’m especially sure the idea of glass bottles was challenged. But, they made the local connection, and they’ve created their future.

I share this story because I think it can be an inspiring example to others in agriculture at this turning point in America’s economy. Wall Street will eventually get back on track – but I hope those of us in agriculture won’t simply return to business as usual. Re-evaluate how your ranch or agribusiness operates; reconnect with what is important to consumers; and then re-construct your business model for the future to take advantage of new opportunities.

I won’t deny that agriculture is a global market and that there aren’t countless opportunities on the large scale. But there are some equally big opportunities by looking local – and focusing on good ol’ fashioned values – as well.