“If it ain’t broke . . . don’t fix it!”
I inherited this philosophy from my father who lived through the Great Depression. For a time I worked with him in his small construction business. He never threw anything away nor did he buy any new tool to replace an old one unless we had fixed it multiple times and there was just no hope of saving it again. He also struggled with adopting to new or better ways to improve productivity. The way he had always done it was the best way.
Unfortunately, this thinking did not always work to our advantage. Dad’s construction business might have been a little more profitable had we invested in some new tools and new technologies to make the business more profitable. “Broken” can mean several things.
Example: Everyone agrees that heat stress is a critical concern in animal production. For animals that are housed indoors, a properly designed and operating ventilation system is critical to the farms economic performance. A ventilation fan that does not rotate is clearly “broken” and must be fixed. But what about a barn ventilation system that was designed for the climate and animal genetics in 1996? Even if everything is operational, the system might still be considered “broken” if it is not getting the job done.
Clearly animal heat stress results in production losses. A simple “return on investment” calculation would be ideal to determine “broken.” You know, calculate the economic loss from a heat stress event and determine how many heat stress events per year. Then, compare those economic losses to the investment in some new ventilation system or cooling technology. The final decision is the lower of the two costs over some period of time.
Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. Questions like the number, intensity, and duration of heat events per year is hard to quantify as are questions related to the temperatures prior to and after those heat events. Also, what is the economic and productivity impact from these different heat event scenarios? What is the expected benefit from the new ventilation or cooling system?
And now, add one more thing: Climate Change. How is climate in your region changing? Will there be more heat events in the future or less? Will there be more variability? Will the timing of heat events change (e.g. early spring heat vents). Considering all this, how do we make that investment calculation?
A new USDA publication called “Adaptation Resources for Agriculture: Responding to Climate Variability and Change in the Midwest and Northeast” walks users through some planning steps for making climate based decisions. Adapting to a Changing Climate: A Planing Guide is another resource developed by this project.
Unfortunately, neither of these guides will provide a simple answer to this problem. There are no shortcuts nor is there a “right” answer. It is a matter of making the best decision we can with the information available.
Bottom line “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it . . . but be careful how you define “broken.”
Always Considering Climate — David
David Schmidt MS. PE is a researcher and educator in the Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering at the University of Minnesota and regional project coordinator for the project Animal Agriculture in a Changing Climate, a national project of the Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Center and funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.