How to ask for better compensation & farm perks.
Tuesday, May 16, 2023
by: April 18, 2023 Grainews Seeds of Encouragement by Elaine Froese

Section: Taxes

Young farm families have many expectations to manage as they work on farms as employees, raise small children and juggle time for off-farm revenue. One of the best ways to have less stress about compensation from the farm is to figure out what you need for personal family living expenses. I can imagine you groaning as you read this. These tips also apply to the founders who need a clear understanding of their income stream needs as they step back without stepping away on the farm.

Talking about money doesn’t have to be stressful when you come prepared with the data or “reality check” of what you need. Arguments arise when what you think you need may be perceived by your employer (farm parents) as a want. So be clear about what you see as fair compensation.
Recently I was speaking to a group of dairy farmers and suggested a family of four needs about $84K a year for family living.  You can google “Iowa State’s Benchmarking Family Living expenses in agriculture” ( )
This extension tool has a great chart of how to look at your farm family living expenses.

 On our farm, Wes and I typically use $75K annually which does not include charity or investments, and we don’t have a house mortgage. Everyone’s annual number is their number, but you need some data to figure out cash flow and expectations for family living.
  1. Get data.
Review your last year’s bank and credit card statements to see what you spent for family living. FCC has a tool called the Cost-of-Living Calculator.  Track what you are spending on family living using your bank records and save cash receipts. Find an easy way to keep track so you get good data! Find out what other young farmers are making for income in comparable scenarios. Use the free AgVisor Pro app on your phone to ask the many consultants and farmers on the app willing to share information.
  1. Use Dick Wittman’s compensation worksheets Wittman’s tool can nail down the wages or salary, and the farm perks of beef, garden produce, boarding horses, housing, utilities, cell phone, internet, pick-up truck, gas, meals, etc. Many families forget all the items the farm is paying for. These expenses covered by the business can add up to $14K or more of benefit to you as a family.
  2. Think about your goals to have equity in the farm business. What debt are you willing to take on to gain ownership of equipment, livestock, or land? If your farm wages/salary is only enough money just to live, then you are likely not getting enough compensation to have disposable income for farm debt payments. Before computers and excel spreadsheets, we kept track of debt payments in a yellow scribbler, and we celebrated paying off farm loans! What are your timelines for being an employee of the farm then moving to being a partial owner?
  3. Talk about money with your spouse. When you share the goals of gaining growth opportunities in the farm business you are pulling in the same direction. When you fight about what the family needs versus the farm, you need to seek deeper understanding of what you can wait for, and what needs to happen now to meet the family’s needs. What investments today will make money? Which debt is good debt?
Does your family understand “save” or “wait”?
  1. Discuss what the word “sacrifice” means to your immediate family and to the larger farm team. Lance Woodbury talks about sacrifice as a gift, a. necessity or a crutch. (Ask me for the pdf of “Double Edge Sword of Sacrifice” by Woodbury). Compensation may be kept low for young farmers as a crutch when the real issue is lack of business financial performance or too many family members working in business.  In other cases, Woodbury says “ sacrifice is used as a way for parents to avoid hard choices about succession planning and the process of letting go.” I recall  founders saying they wanted the next generation to suffer as they had! Yikes! Where is it written young farm families need to suffer economic hardship to appreciate the opportunity to farm?
  2. Block time for a farm team meeting to discuss what is working with your compensation levels, and what needs to change. Be clear about what level of wages or salary you need for your family’s well-being. If you need an HR specialist to help with employee contracts reach out to Lindsay Seafoot at She works with ag families from Wawanesa, Manitoba.
  3. Celebrate how you manage your income well. Share appreciation with  your spouse and your farm team as to how you are grateful for what you can accomplish together with the resources provided.
  4. Talk with your spouse about concerns with overspending or mindfulness in what you truly need to succeed to accomplish your goals. Discuss what money means to you. Listen to the Moolala: Money Made Simple with Bruce Sellery Podcast. Sellery authored “Moolala, why smart people do dumb things with their money.”
  5. Work to have compensation matched to the roles and skills you are providing to the farm. Just because there are two siblings working as employees on the farm it does not mean their different skills, for example farm labour vs. farm manager deserve the same income. This is a huge conflict I have witnessed when the farm owner is conflict averse and not fair with compensation for different skill sets. This situation may need mediation and facilitation with a coach.
Every farm family, old and young needs enough financial resources to live well and grow the business. Reach out to and I will send you the compensation folder with Wittman’s compensation tools, Woodbury’s sacrifice pdf, and the Iowa State benchmarks for family living expenses.

Talking about money and understanding the money scripts you are living with in your family will create more harmony! Being clear is kind!

Elaine Froese is a former extension home economist. She cares about your family having a great quality of life on your farm. Ask for a free discovery call today! Her team of 7 coaches are here to give you harmony through understanding.
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