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Each new year brings challenges and successes, and 2018 is sure to be the same.

But they aren’t necessarily exclusive of each other. Whether you can overcome the challenges and turn them into successes depends on strategy, attitude and, yes, sometimes a bit of luck.

Wisconsin’s dairy community saw its share of challenges in 2017 but also great progress for the Dairy Business Association in helping the dairy community reach its full potential. Heading into 2018, DBA  looks forward to meeting the challenges head-on and building on the progress.

A number of key issues await.

Stability and growth of dairy farming

A proposal to shift permitting of concentrated animal feeding operations to the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection would help meet this goal. Shifting the program from the Department of Natural Resources would make the program stronger and more functional.

Regulatory overreach by local governments seeking to place more burdens on new or expanding farms also should be a priority.

Water quality/environmental challenges

Several voluntary farmer-led conservation initiatives that DBA supports throughout the state demonstrate agriculture’s commitment to the environment and communities. Farmers are partnering with conservation groups and researchers to identify best practices, share and promote those practices and measuring progress based on science.

Phosphorous trading is another consideration in the conservation discussion. It’s a strategy that has moved in fits and starts over the years and has yet to live up to its potential, largely because of economics. However, the possible benefits make it worthwhile to further explore a more functional system.

Labor supply, stability

Demographic shifts in rural Wisconsin make it very difficult, if not impossible, for some farms to find adequate workers. A lack of initiative at the federal level means the prospects for a new ag-focused visa program are dim, which means dairy farmers’ labor challenges are likely to persist.

The state government cannot do much to help, but should try where it can and should absolutely not do anything that could make our labor difficulties worse.

Challenging farm economics

There is not much that DBA or the state government can do to affect milk price. Still, economic challenges underlie nearly all the key issues facing the dairy community in 2018.

While we can all hope for improvement on the price front, we can’t bank on it. As with any business, each farmer must assess the individual situation and adjust accordingly.

The good news for the dairy community: Farmers’ savviness and innovation usually pay dividends. This is why I see a lot of opportunities and hope as we head into the coming year.

Mike North is president of the Dairy Business Association

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