Planning for the farm's future

Gloria Hafemeister
Now Media Group


Farm succession from one generation to the next can be overwhelming for families when added to the daily decisions necessary to run the farm.

'If a farmer is lucky, succession will be something experienced just twice in a lifetime: once when first taking over the business and again when passing it down to the next generation,' said Jeff Hoffman, UW-Extension Dodge County and also a volunteer with the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection's FARM Center program.

He added, 'You make decisions every day to improve your farm business and provide your family with a home and lifestyle you want for them. Have you planned for the family's and the farm's long-term sustainability?'

Speaking at a recent farm succession workshop in Watertown, Hoffman and Bonnie Borden, dairy youth adviser with the UW-Extension, helped the 40 participants sort through their thoughts on the process.

Noting the importance of open communication, the two emphasized that the younger generation has different thoughts and concerns than the older generation. There are also differences in the things that concern the women in the business than the men in the business.

'Conflict happens when communication breaks down,' Borden said. 'Even body language is important.'

Personalities count

The two challenged participants to think about their individual personality traits, looking at their strengths and weaknesses and how they approach issues in life, keeping in mind that there is no right or wrong personality, just different.

While participants were asked to think about which personality group they fit into, several of them said they see themselves in several categories.

The exercise showed the importance of the various personalities working together. There is a need for those who are organized thinkers, who analyze every step first. There is also a need for the type of person who is able to hold things together, for someone who jumps in to do the work and for a peacemaker-type whose goal is to keep everyone getting along.

Following this exercise, Jill Kirkpatrick of the UW-Center for Dairy Profitability, separated the men from the women and the younger generation from the older generation. Facilitators then probed their ideas to determine which ideas the different groups share and where there are differences.

The older men were concerned about someone taking over the farm who would keep the business going and keep the farm neat. They would also like the opportunity to enjoy being on their farm as long as possible but admit they need help from the next generation to be able to do so.

Many of the men worried that if the farm was sold outside of the family, they would not know what to do with their extra time since they have previously not had time to develop a hobby.

While the men are retiring from farming, they still worry about commodity prices and are hopeful the younger generation will be able to keep the farm going.

Women generally wanted to have more time for themselves and their families and want to relinquish their role of actively working on the farm. They understand the younger generation will need to struggle, but they hope it won't be too overwhelming for them.

Both men and women wonder if the younger generation understands the sacrifices they made to bring the business to where it is today, and they are hopeful the younger generation will be financially successful, both for themselves and for the parents who may still be deriving income from the sale or rent of the farm.

The younger generation participating in the workshop was concerned about having the ability to make decisions, take responsibility and have their ideas heard. They are looking for respect and said they want to be brought in as a decision-making partner, not just as an employee with no authority.

They want to eventually assume ownership, and they want two-way communication with their ideas valued.

They are worried about failure due to herd problems, weather or the economy, and they are afraid of letting their family down if they don't succeed.

The younger people who hope to be farm successors want to work with newer facilities, modern equipment and technology while carrying on the family tradition. They want those family members not involved in the farm to be proud of the fact that they were able to keep the family tradition going.

The exercises served to facilitate discussions among family members, noting the importance of family talks first and then seek the appropriate assistance in putting the plan into action. Speakers stressed that farms surviving from one generation to the next do not happen by accident. Instead, that success comes from a family having a clear goal for the future and a well-thought-out plan.

Other workshop presenters helped with the details of moving forward with a plan in consideration for tax consequences, developing a business plan, and the roll of wills, estate planning and insurance.