Transitioning management and ownership of a farm business from one generation to the next can present many challenges. While there are numerous resources to support farm founders in assessing their business and planning their transition into retirement, not many advise young farmers on how they should prepare.
“I think founders are wanting their successors to prove themselves so I often ask young farmers what they are doing to prove their passion and commitment to keeping the farm viable and profitable going forward,” she says.
Why it matters: Farm transition is a major challenge for some families. Equipping young farmers with useful tools can help the process be more successful.
Identifying values is another crucial exercise for young farmers, including how they rank teamwork versus independence.
“Are they willing to work in tandem with the founder or do they want a sub-enterprise that they can call their own?” she asks, noting that some farmers start by running a custom operation under the umbrella of the larger business as a way gain experience and prove their commitment.
It has become clear that the next generation of farmers values having a life outside of work. “They want to have time with their family and they want to stay married, so they will not work 100-hour weeks like they’ve watched their parents do,” says Froese.
As with many tough issues, this newer school of thinking requires effective communication about reasonable expectations. In other words, the younger generation needs to be able to explain why they value time away from work, even though there may be judgment about this from their family.
Froese urges young farmers to see a financial planner to discuss their personal wealth as soon as possible. By developing lifestyle and debt servicing plans and getting a will and life insurance in place at a young age, they will be more comfortable knowing what their business plan is going to cost when it is time to see an agricultural lender.
In a situation where the older generation is not open to discussing transition, Froese recommends young farmers try to find out if fear of conflict is one of the reasons.
If the answer is yes, it’s important to make transition conversations safe and respectful by hiring an objective, trained third-party facilitator. In a world of virtual events, there is no reason why a farm family can’t have an effective meeting with a facilitator in any location over Zoom, says Froese.
She encourages the use of “I think”, “I need” and “I want” statements to express emotions. For young farmers trying to start the transition discussion, this could sound like: “I think it’s time we have a facilitated family meeting. I need to have certainty about my future. I want you, as my mom and dad, to be protected.”
Frustrated young farmers can also write a letter of intent to their parents to explain their thoughts and feelings and ask them to consider a facilitated family meeting, suggests Froese. “Being clear is kind,” she says. “You get the behaviour you accept.”