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Cattlemans corner Austin SneddenBy Austin Snedden, Ranching Contributor, Valley Ag Voice

I was recently at a meeting where a panel of genetic lab vendors were touting the value of gene editing to achieve traits that could be accomplished through traditional breeding. Those of us who were skeptical about this technology were labeled as antiquated if we did not embrace advancement. As more and more folks try to latch onto the dollars that cattlemen produce, the message of “progress” has been the biggest selling point. From supplement to vaccines, ID and to tag companies, to 3rd party verification, to genomics companies, there is a long list of folks that want a cut of your production. Some of these services are justified and add value, but others are just looking to milk from your production, and all of them are sold to you as “progress” reinforced with the fear of getting left behind.

As the genetic marketeers continued in their panel discussion, common technologies were brought up and discussed with a focus on past trepidation in their inception from rail to air travel to artificial insemination and to embryo transfer. The message was that these technologies have been so beneficial, that anyone that was skeptical at the time of their inception has been made to look like a fool. Using examples of technology that has worked with no examples of technology that failed to push a narrative of “progress” is wrong. Yes, there were people skeptical of rail and airplanes, but there were also people skeptical of Hindenburg and the Titanic. Yes, there were people skeptical of artificial insemination and embryo transfer, but there were also people skeptical of the off-target mutations that have occurred with gene editing. Doing things to be progressive does not have a perfect track record.

There is a message I see people in agriculture pass around on social media that expands on the concept of being progressive: “The most dangerous phrase in business is, ‘We have always done it this way.” Not only is this statement false, but it plays on people’s fears of being left behind. I know there are individuals in agriculture, possibly younger folks, who feel some operations are stuck in the mud because of multi-generational tradition. I know that some might get frustrated carrying out ideas that started decades or longer before, and this leads to people sharing the concept of progressive thought, but learning from the past is valuable. Doing something purely because “we have always done it this way” is not good on its own, and maybe not good at all, but examine why it has always been done that way.

Here are some reasons why that phrase is not “the most dangerous” to business:

  1. Apparently, that way has worked.
  2. Saying that we have “always” done it this way
    implies it has worked many times.
  3. Don’t assume there was no trial and error with
    other methods in the beginning.
  4. Saying something that has proven to work is
    “dangerous” is dumb on its face.

Progress is good, and a dose of skepticism is also good. Don’t get pressured down the wrong trail purely to be on the cutting edge. If you are a young person coming back to a family business, bring new ideas, but don’t automatically assume the old ways are garbage. Steady steps forward are better than rapid steps in all directions.

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