What do we know about the future? The “easy” and only certain answer is simply that the future will be both dramatically different and yet strikingly similar. That isn’t an attempt to be clever, nor is it meant to restate the obvious.
One thing we know is the trend of industry consolidation that’s been occurring for the last 40 years will continue. For one thing, it’s the natural course for business and life, in general. Those endeavors that are most successful tend to grow and expand; those that aren’t as successful are generally absorbed by those that are.
We spend considerable time in this industry lamenting this fact, but look at the auto, telephone industry and computer industries, the beer or cola markets, and a host of others. Their levels of concentration illustrate just how far ours must go to really be considered consolidated.
I wouldn’t argue with anyone who opposes industry consolidation, or, for that matter, anyone who has concerns about the gains in efficiencies of production that ultimately lead to the need for fewer cows. But, as the saying goes, you can’t get the toothpaste back in the tube once it is out. The trend has been dramatic at the packer level, significant at the feeding level, and accelerating at the cow-calf level.
We also know that the industry will continue to struggle with the unique challenge of trying to balance two marketing systems – one commodity-based, the other value-added. The industry direction has been focused on building a hybrid model of the two, and the results will be dramatically different from an either-or type of commodity or value system. The margin squeeze created by excess capacity in the feeding and packing industries may dramatically change the momentum and direction of the changes occurring in this area.
We also know that emerging technologies and research are going to reshape how we do things. DNA, individual animal ID systems, and improved data collection and analysis, will likely be big drivers in how we breed, manage and market cattle in the future.
One of my all-time favorite sayings came from an industry meeting where a producer said: “There’s nothing more dangerous than a new idea in a room full of cattlemen who are making money.” Think about it. When times are good, change tends to be incremental in nature. The major shifts tend to occur when times are tough.
The rate and level of change in this industry can’t be overstated.