On Optimists and Farmers

George Cudoc, Dairy One DHI

George Cudoc

What or rather who is an optimist? There are some other words that are used in describing an optimist, like dreamer, idealist, or “hoper.” Certainly nothing wrong with being called any of those things and the world as we know it today has been shaped by people called one of those names.  I have heard many times that farmers must be the world’s greatest optimists since they choose to farm year upon year regardless of the ups and down in their businesses and all the unknown outcomes of chance. The quote,  “the farmer has to be an optimist, or he wouldn’t still be a farmer” suggests that those two descriptions are interchangeable. I, for one, like being around optimists…. or rather farmers. The title of farmer is easier to say,  and someone as well thought of as Will Rogers must have known what he was saying when he made that observation comparing the two. I’ll have to add that those of us who have made a career is serving farmers must be optimists as well.

Not everyone we encounter has the same respectful viewpoint of farmers as we do. It is somewhat unnerving, and a bit sad,  to read statements that others have made referencing farmers and in particular,  those  who farm with an emphasis on animal agriculture. Like it or not, people, especially young people, look up to athletes, actors, singers, and other entertainers as people to emulate and statements meant to hurt others by these people can have a significant impact on what choices they make in their lives. I seldom  watch programs like the recently aired Academy Awards and recently I caught just a short segment, fortunately or unfortunately, where an award winner used his time at the microphone to disparage what we as dairy producers do for a living. The speech went on to lash out and criticize our basic practices like calving in a cow and handling those calves in routine and caring ways as dairy producers do. It made me mad. I thought, how dare someone like that take shots at the very essence of being a dairyman. Then after I changed the channel, I got to thinking. We live where that very freedom, to voice an opinion, is enjoyed by all of us. I see that freedom even in agricultural media where critical remarks about things like food companies selling almond products is pronounced to be wrong and then shortly after I read where a dairy farmer has diversified his operation by planting almond trees so that in three to five years he may enter the market to supply almonds to make a beverage. I can’t help but think, we are starting to be pessimists focusing on the negatives we perceive as harmful to us. Farmers battling other farmers, is that an acceptable answer?

Excuse my toe-dipping into the waters of farming politics as it was not meant to belittle anyone but rather to celebrate the freedom of choice that we all make each day. I think back to my grandpap, who was also George by the way, and his story of growing up in a place where he did not have so much freedom as we here sometimes take for granted. He had to make an escape from his homeland, family and friends just to experience the pure joy at having the right to make his choices. Crossing out of the border of a country where he was not allowed to choose, and where the penalty was death, he defied the guards that took shots at him, not the verbal shots like I heard on TV, but real bullets. He of course was an optimist who later raised a family doing what he chose to do in a place where he could.

Some of the top news stories in our business this past year centered around shrinking dairy farm numbers, large dairy processing conglomerates declaring bankruptcy, and most recently global dairy markets that are affected by the world concerns about the coronavirus. We think that these concerns and others are new. Newsworthy certainly, but not exactly new. I recently read the speech made in the past by what arguably is the most renowned U.S. politician in history. The year was 1959 and many of us here today were either very young or just a mere hope of our parents for offspring. In an address to the National Milk Producers Federation, then Senator John F. Kennedy outlined why dairy farmers are central in the US economy and vital to the

standard of living we enjoy in what is a privileged country by comparison to many others. He enlightened the audience with 6 points about food production, especially dairy, that were vital to the economy and the economic advantages we have in the US. He said, “Our great farm production is a national asset which the communists do not have and cannot obtain — a weapon more powerful for preserving the free world than any in our arsenal of armaments.”  Sometimes we are so entrenched with all the changes seeming to challenge our daily lives and status quo that we forget that at times there are some things unchanged. For some inspiration and a look back to the industry in 1959 you can read  REMARKS OF SENATOR JOHN F. KENNEDY, NATIONAL MILK PRODUCERS FEDERATION, WASHINGTON D.C., NOVEMBER 16, 1959.

My wife and I have had the good fortune in our lives to raise three great children. I had spent the first 20 years of our child raising lives as a dairyman often wondering how to spend enough time nurturing, educating, protecting, and otherwise getting them ready to make their own decisions and marks in the world while managing the many things that a dedicated dairyman must do to be even slightly successful in his selected trade. Now that they have children of their own, I now hear them talk about the advantages they had over their own kids by virtue of the dairy farm life they were forced to live.

Obviously preaching to the choir at this point but I want to share several key lessons that my kids have taught me recently.

(1) Responsibility and trust are not virtues bestowed on anybody. Both are character builders and involve a give and take, a back and forth, a tit for tat and any other quip about sharing both the good and bad. Unknown to me at the time but now validated daily, you must trust if you are to be trusted and responsibility cannot be given but rather it must be shared.



(2) Friendships and relationships go hand in hand and cannot be found easily but once found can eclipse all the boundaries set by time. The memories of all the simple things like chores, lending a hand, and seeing something accomplished are taken for granted growing up until you find yourself in a situation where you can’t help.

(3) Passion leads to satisfaction and one drives the other. Having passion for a cause or even what you do to make a living outlasts any rewards our actions might deserve. Now I remember, back in 1998 I decided to leave active dairy farming not because I no longer cared for that life, I just could not imagine continuing without my children to share my passions. How lucky we have been to share the dairy life. They truly believe they are better for it as I know I am.

I suppose it would only be proper for me to speak of the industry segment for which we are all here to serve and celebrate, DHIA. For more than 20 years now it has been my great pleasure to serve dairy producers in several capacities. I had to think only a moment before I realized that even before the start of my professional career, I earned every dollar I ever made in some capacity of the dairy industry. Many new tools and management practices have taken over for ones that have simply become obsolete by virtue of a new thought someone came up with and set out to prove it beneficial. We are now inundated with new data in amounts that quickly become incomprehensible merely by the human brain. So many acronyms come flying at us to identify new trends, products and services. Even some old ones, for example AI, have new meanings such as  Artificial Intelligence and are meant to decipher the almost countless streams of data points that have answers for our many challenges. I, for one, hope someone comes up with a better term since there are times, we already seem to have artificial “fake” intelligence surrounding us. I think politics where promises that are not possible to keep are made with speed and carelessness.



I hope you have had time to enjoy your travels here and around this historic city of Savannah. I know you have much in common with other attendees and there are tidbits of information all around us waiting to be plucked, seeded, and planted in our minds for implementation when we return home. I also hope you have some time and mental capacity to re-charge as needed and find those deep-rooted optimisms that have made you able to wear proudly the title of Farmer.

And on the 8th day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, “I need a caretaker,” so God made a farmer – Paul Harvey.

The author, the outgoing president of National DHIA, made this presentation at the organization’s 55th on Mar. 5.  He reports he’s scheduled to retire from his post at Dairy One Cooperative on Mar. 31.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.