Avoid the mistakes farmers typically make

Elaine Froese
Wednesday, 12 June 2019
By Elaine Froese
I smile knowingly as I read the farmer’s checklist, he wants to “avoid the mistakes farmers typically make” in succession planning. I don’t pretend to have the exhaustive list, but in eight years of coaching I have seen many scenarios that you don’t want to repeat.

What mistakes?

Poor self care. Your body is not a machine yet you ignore the things your body is telling you. Headaches and gut pains may be a signal that you are not dealing with conflict well, you continue to avoid the crucial conversations the younger generation is begging you for.

Poor marriage care. You’ve noticed that your spouse is a bit more distant lately, yet you just shrug it off and go out to the shop. She’s been showing you some house designs and real estate deals in town, but you are not the least bit interested in talking or considering moving off the home place. You’ve been here 42 years, so why move now? The big mistake here is that you really have no respect for your spouse’s needs and changing goals.

Need for power and control. My oldest client is past 95. This is not a happy tale, because it means they have had a hard time relinquishing title to the land, and giving up power and control. The mistake here is that the next generation has not been compensated for sweat equity, and has no leverage of assets for their own debt decisions for growth and security.

Lack of appreciation. When each generation takes the other for granted, a lot of hurt and resentment clouds good decision making. Tom Hubler, a family business coach from Minnesota, counts lack of appreciation as one of his top three stumbling blocks for good succession planning.

Fear of failure or greed. It’s a very sad day when the legacy of the farm business can’t carry on to the next willing generation because the founder is so bound up with fear of failure or greediness. I’ve seen great operations wind down because the founder is hanging on too tightly to his net worth and not understanding that he certainly has enough for his future well-being. There’s a money attitude script here that is playing out when someone has built a business with the help of a successor, yet refuses to share the wealth or acknowledge who helped create and keep the wealth.

No personal wealth bubble. This is the term Merle Good of Alberta uses to describe the assets outside of the farm business that help out non-farm income streams and add flexibility to dealing with non-business heirs. The farm families that have kept pouring all the cash back into the farm and have not put anything in a personal wealth plan are strapped, unless they like the thought of living frugally on their meager government pensions, and being at the mercy of their children’s financial help. Or some farm assets will need to be sold to generate cash for living.

Shelle Rose Charvet who is a master of NLP, neuro-linquistic programming, talks about avoidance or “away from” behaviour, and “toward” behaviour. We are all moving away from things, or moving toward goals that excite us. Most farmers resonate with the “avoid mistakes” phrase because farmers are wired to solve problems and avoid disasters. When you live your life from a perspective of “avoidance”, is that a really positive motivator for you? Or do you prefer to move “toward” something?

I think that many farmers are not making plans for transferring management and ownership to the next generation because they have nothing to move toward. Being the “hired man again” as a semi-retired farmer is only exiting if you have a great working relationship with your successor, clear boundaries and role expectations, and a spouse who is aligned with your desire to never retire. An Iowa study found that less than 30 per cent of farmers ever retire. Most folks want to stay active to some degree, the difficulty is having communication and conflict resolution systems in place to keep that clear with both the founders and successors.

So where do you start to be more pro-active and less reactive to mistakes?

Take good care of yourself emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. Reward yourself with things that you find pleasurable and enjoyable in the present moment rather that saying “When I am 65 I will do this…” You are more likely to take action and change your behaviour when you have something to look forward to. For your marriage care this may mean some marriage time discussion about what is fun for you both as a couple, and how you may have to do things with friends while your partner stays home to do what they want to do. Most farm moms that I meet are very tired of their very over-active roles, and they want to know that their needs for less activity, and more recreation are going to be met…in the proper seasons.

Ask your son and daughter and their spouses about their timelines for agreements and transition. Giving up power and control to a well trained successor who is groomed and ready should not have to be that hard, if you have done a good job of teaching, training, and sharing responsibilities. Remember what it felt like when you took over from your dad. Why is it so hard to think that your successor doesn’t need the same chance to prove themselves and do well? The “letting go” can be done in stages, not all at once, but it does need to happen, otherwise your successors are going to pack up and move out in frustration with “nothing ever changes around here.”

Make a conscious effort to show appreciation to all of your farm team in many different ways. Talking may not be your thing, but no one can read minds, so it really helps to use words and good listening skills. One huge mistake is fathers and sons who only work together no longer have any memory of having a friendship or fun together beyond the farm work gate. Can you find some time to play together this winter?


Editor's Note: The original post first appeared on Elaine Froese's website and has been re-published with permission.

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