GRAND RAPIDS, Ohio — Living life with a purpose was the message keynote speaker Laura Daniels presented at last month’s 25th Women in Agriculture conference.
"Baler twine is the universal tool. Baler twine is kind of like your values and your goals," said Daniels, a farmer, dairy consultant and agriculture advocate from Cobb, Wis., during the daylong event March 23 at Nazareth Hall. "You need those quick tools to tie everything together – kind of like your values, your guiding principles.
"Knowing your values keeps you tied to your purpose."
Daniels and her husband, Jarred Searls, raise two children on their dairy farm with 300 Jersey cows, 650 acres and six full-time employees. She serves as general manager in charge of day-to-day operations.
She said only 5 percent of farms have a woman as a primary operator, according to the last Census of Agriculture. "It used to be you could only list one primary operator. I'm really excited for the Census of Ag data to come back. It only takes about a year-and-a-half to crunch that data." (Conducted every five years, the 2017 Census is still wrapping up at this time.)
While her message was upbeat, Daniels didn't ignore the straits the agriculture industry is in today. "I've always had a dream to be a dairy farmer, and I get to live my dream every single day. Times are pretty tough right now in all of ag, but especially in dairy. We're really struggling. These are hard times.”
Milk prices continue to go down, as do crop prices.
"I'm living my dream, but I'm also coming to terms with the fact that it might be over," she said. "Just because you love it doesn't mean it gets to go forever. We have this incredible gift to be American farmers, but life goes on for people who decide not to be.”
In addition to her farm work. Daniels consults in the areas of team-building, employee management and dairy cattle nutrition and gives pro-ag and motivational speeches across the country. She is the founder and president of the Dairy Girl Network formed in 2013 as a national coalition of professional dairywomen (DairyGirlNetwork.com).
She applauded the women attending for taking a day for themselves at the conference, out of their busy schedules. "You're focusing on a chance to learn and connect to one another because this matter, too.”
She encouraged them to choose their top three values from a list she provided. "Write it down," she said. "It's one of the most important things you can do."
When she selected her top values, Daniels said "gentleness" topped her list along with "reliability" and "positive attitude." From that point forward, she lived her life with her values in mind – in hiring employees, to raising her children.
"It's the best way for our children to learn our values," she noted. "They see how we care for our employees, cattle and land with gentleness in order to produce food to nourish people.
"The value words are like the baler twine. They keep you tied to your purpose."
An outgrowth of deciding on values is setting goals. "Most goals start as a dream. Dreams become plans, and plans become reality," she said.
She encouraged women to also write down their goals, personal and business. "Eighty percent of people never think about goals," she said. "They just don't." She said those people live paycheck to paycheck and rarely plan ahead. "You achieve three times more if you write it down.”
Daniels also suggested keeping a thankfulness journal: "Write down three things every day you're thankful for. There's always something to be thankful for even on the worst day." In her journal, she reflects on life and records her personal goals, and the record becomes a history to remind her of the progress she is making.
To help women make that progress, Daniels said metaphorical "barn lime" is important. "Barn lime gives you traction," she pointed out. "That's what we need." Traction in this case comes in the form of support from other people and slowing down to appreciate accomplishments.
She said one the best things women can do for one another is be a "true believer."
"This is something I think all of us have, but we don't take time to reflect on them," she said, encouraging women to stop and think of those friends and family members who believe in them. "Be thankful, and tell them” – and then be a true believer in return.
"Who do you believe in, truly?" she said. "Who are you paying that forward to? Be a really good friend who will be honest and truthful and be there for them. I think it's more important that we are true believers for others. That, and baler twine, will help you stay tied to your purpose."