There are myriad questions looming over the dairy industry as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.
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In the 1980s, “Family Feud,” starring Richard Dawson, was traveling around the country looking for families to be on the show. Madison, Wis., was one of the cities they visited in search of one family to bring out to Hollywood.

Nine hundred families auditioned in Madison. My family, by some miracle of the planets aligning correctly, was selected. We were flown out to Hollywood, put up at the Hyatt on Sunset Blvd. and treated by gracious hosts for five days.

On the day of the actual taping, we had to be at the ABC studios at 9:00 a.m., when we joined other families from the LA area. Since the show’s taping didn’t begin until 7:00 p.m., the 10 hours prior were used for practicing enthusiastic responses.

The No. 1 thing the show’s producers insisted on was that whenever a family member gave an answer to a question, the other family members had to loudly and enthusiastically yell “good answer, good answer!” while clapping wildly. If you didn’t behave in this over-the-top manner, you might be dismissed from the show.  Why do I mention an incident that happened in La-La Land many decades ago? Because it reminds me of how there are myriad questions looming over the dairy industry as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, there’s a paucity of “good answers.”

A litany of questions yearning for answers includes:

– After embracing “comfort foods” (i.e., dairy) during the pandemic, will the public continue to purchase genuine dairy products, or will they eschew them for some type of alternative product?

– What will the retail market for dairy products be in the next two to five years?

– When will restaurants get back to pre-pandemic levels of business? Dairy companies relying on restaurants for a good share of their business will have to wait a bit longer for the public to get reacclimated to dining out again.

– How will the slow eradication of COVID-19 in other countries affect dairies that rely on international trade? It will still be some time before foreign economies begin to pick up, causing a delayed recovery for exports to those locales.

– The continuation of the extra $300 unemployment checks that many people have been receiving causes a disincentive for individuals to return to the workforce. Dairies and suppliers already have headaches trying to fill positions. Will these checks be discontinued sooner rather than later to force more people into the employment pool, thus allowing companies to fill their vacant positions?

– Will some companies be forced to change their office structures and allow more of their employees to work from home? There is a segment of workers who have become quite comfortable working at home for the past year and have no desire to return to an office setting.

– Will COVID-19 change the dynamics of the dairy industry? This industry has always been built on face-to-face interactions: in-person meetings, negotiating across the table, sealing the deal with a handshake. That’s the dairy industry I’ve known for the past 30 years. However, COVID-19 produced the Zoom phenomenon, in which business dealings segued from face-to-face to an internet format. Will this change be permanent or just a blip on the screen? One could make the argument that this dynamic was already changing prior to the pandemic, as a younger generation was becoming a larger portion of the dairy structure, bringing their affinity for texting and social media communication in lieu of face-to-face interactions. Now, after 15 months of the industry shifting to an internet style of doing business, will the “old ways” slowly be ushered out into the sunset?

There are so many questions as we come out of COVID-19 and strive to return to “normal.” Unfortunately, as people attempt to answer these questions, there is no one clapping and shouting “good answer, good answer.”

 

Report reinforces progress across environmental impact, animal care nutrition and food security.

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