3 steps to successful farm succession
Step 2: transfer of control
Whenever the topic of farm succession comes up around my parents’ dinner table we end up sharing stories about neighbours whose transitions were less than successful. It’s these stories that cause us to tread carefully with our own farm.
When my own family was very young, we had lovely neighbours, farmers who had “moved to town” (a farmer’s euphemism for retired). I began spending time with the folks next door and I noticed something, even though they had “moved to town,” they were still driving the decision making on the farm. It seemed that these hardy farmers would be around forever, but unfortunately, that wasn’t going to be the case. Within a couple of years of my husband and I moving next door to them, both of my spry neighbours found themselves in poor health and it was devastating for the farming operation.
These neighbours had two sons who were skilled at performing the day-to-day duties of the farm, but what they had never done all together was make decisions. Transfer of Labour as discussed in my last article, was complete, but “Transfer of Control” was a critical missing piece.
In this case, my neighbours knew their boys did not get along and they kept the peace by making all of the operational decisions themselves. Now, without their parents as a buffer, the two successors were frequently butting heads and the operation and their relationship suffered. Back then, I didn’t know what I do now about farm succession, but if I had, I would have offered this metaphor as advice: “Teach your kids to drive!”
Learning to operate a farming operation is like learning to drive. You progress from driving in the pasture, to the back roads, until finally, you are driving a grain truck on the highway. Successors learn the same way, they move from minor decisions to more impactful ones until they are making major operational choices. Every succession is different, but it’s important that the first time your successors drive your operation, they aren’t doing the decision making equivalent of hauling a Super B of grain. Your successor might hit the ditch or get stuck in the mud, but if you are there to pull them out with the tractor, they’ll be on their way to becoming a farmer you’ll be proud of.
What can we learn from all this? I’ve committed with my own family, that instead of talking about other’s less than successful transitions around the dinner table, we are going to spend some of this precious time having the hard conversations about what our transition needs to look like and how will will go about transferring control. Someone will need to take the wheel and we are working together to figure out what that hand off looks like.
Check out the next and final article in this series, 3 steps to successful farm succession: transfer of ownership.
Kimberlee Davis was raised on a family farm that has seen four generations of farming in the Vauxhall, Alberta area. As a Senior Financial Advisor with ATB Securities Inc, Kimberlee works with Southern Alberta clients to develop comprehensive plans for their future including farm succession and retirement planning.