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Virginia Cooperative Extension -
 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Change is Inevitable, Success is Optional

Farm Business Management Update, June - July 2007

By Matthew Miller (, Extension Agent, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Farm Business Management, Southwest District

A little over a month ago, Southwest Dairy Extension Agent Chase Scott and myself organized a “Dairy Innovation Tour” for southwest Virginia Dairymen. The final destination and one of the main highlights was a visit to Mason Dixon Dairy located just south of Gettysburg, PA. I suspect many of you have had the opportunity to visit the Mason Dixon Farm. Our visit was guided by Mr. Richard Waybright. The Waybright family has been on their family farm site since the late 1700’s. The Waybright family and Mason Dixon Dairy offer hundreds of lessons in family farm transition and innovation in their production practices. Our tour of the 2,300 head Mason Dixon Dairy featured a plethora of innovative and thought inspiring aspects. Mason Dixon features a methane digester that powers the entire farm and provides excess electricity to be sold to the local power grid. Alternative power has certainly been in the news lately; the Waybrights have been utilizing this technology since 1979! The majority of the Waybright’s 7,000 tillable acres has the capability of utilizing center pivot irrigation, the hay equipment can mow up to 30 acres an hour, and 500 of the Mason Dixon cows milk themselves via DeLaval robotic milkers. It would be easy to become awe-struck at the Mason Dixon operation. However, as much as I enjoyed the innovation, it was a quote from Mr. Waybright that struck the strongest chord. In our group discussion, Mr. Waybright stated “Change is Inevitable, Success is Optional.” In a time when there is so much hesitation, concern, and worry about today’s agriculture environment, the Waybrights are steaming ahead with enthusiasm, creativity, teamwork, and profitability. On the six-hour ride home to Southwest Virginia, I thought about Mr. Waybright’s comments.

“Change is Inevitable”

All one has to do is drive through what has been rural countryside and look at new development throughout Virginia to know that change is inevitable and moving at a rapid pace. Change isn’t necessarily pleasant for many of us, and often a feeling of helplessness surrounds change. However, the do nothing or it won’t work attitude is a prescription for failure. I wish I knew how many times I have heard someone speak about the old days, the way things used to be, how we were all better off when… Regardless of how good or bad the old days were, it is safe to assume that they are not coming back. I recently was party to a conversation on making hay and listened carefully as a 64-year-old gentlemen argued about current hay making methods. He stated he had been making hay for 60 years. I know some pretty talented 4-year-olds, but none are making hay. This gentleman has become stuck in a comfort zone and is fighting the tide of change. His refusal to learn new methods and improve his production capability simply hurt his bottom line. I enjoy nostalgia and history as much as the next person. However, in the case of the Waybright’s and other profitable farming operations, history is a lesson learned and used as a valuable tool to grow and improve. History is both a method for determining past success and failure and replicating the good and avoiding the bad.

“Success is Optional”

I visit with many farmers, and I find that those successful operators are always knowledgeable, aware of the changes around them, and look for ways to take advantage of their changing environment. We continue to see a rapid escalation in the price of land. While some producers throw their hands in the air, those cognizant of the change are securing more land via lease, creating more collaborative partnerships, and exploiting markets associated with more development and residential pressure. Successful operators are always aware of market fluctuations and more importantly the factors creating these changes. This awareness allows for forward thinking, risk management, and in some cases diversification to weather the temporary storm. These operators typically maintain excellent records and utilize their data to make the most accurate and pertinent decisions they can. I find that the majority of successful operators are their own toughest critics and focus on their internal issues worrying little about the next door neighbor. They have a constant desire to both grow their business’s production and quality output. Successful operators are also looking for new and innovative methods to make them more efficient. Many of these people spent time traveling to conferences, visiting other producers, and gaining knowledge from multiple avenues. In the case of Mason Dixon Farm, if they can’t find the necessary equipment they need to be more efficient, they simply build it themselves. Many successful producers choose to become voices for their industry, choosing to make time to serve as a voice in an agricultural industry that is in need of more spokesmen. These same operators know that change will sometimes create difficulty and financial loss. In most cases, they have planned for this low tide and were smart enough to store up for the rainy day. Most successful operators have chosen to increase production, taking advantage of economies of scale. Greater production capacity offers greater marketing choices and marketing power. Others who may be restricted on expansion capability are constantly seeking ways to add value to their product and differentiate their product in a massive marketplace. Successful operators are always looking to move to a higher level in both the quality of production and the prices received for their product. Often agriculture producers are price takers; successful operators are striving to be price setters or are at least moving into a different pricing structure. Finally, successful operators, while tied to their farms emotionally, are able to remove themselves enough to make profitability decisions for the whole business. Farming is a lifestyle, but for that lifestyle to be sustainable, it must also be profitable.

I would encourage anyone who has the opportunity to visit Mason Dixon Farm and the Waybright family to do so. The positive direction and message from the Waybright’s is uplifting. Whenever you find that you are searching for answers for your farming operation remember Richard Waybright’s message, “Change is Inevitable, Success is Optional.”

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