9 Steps To Getting More Family Harmony on the Farm
By Elaine Froese
The coaching theme lately has been older brothers and young brothers (a good bit younger) trying to figure out how to farm together. It is a bit of trick since the older brother typically has a bit more equity because he has been on the farm for a decade or more.
The dilemma of how to give each sibling what they need as a successor sometimes breaks a mother’s heart. She loves all of her children, as does Dad, and she is trying to figure out the way ahead so that the family will be in harmony, and the farm will have a strong team.
What can be done to increase family harmony?
It could be adult children who show up as loving adults, responsible, respectful and ready to create solutions. It is the farming successors who show that family relationships are the core value to be protected, and the farm is a business, not a monster to be fed.
9 Suggestions for All Members to Create Family Harmony on the Farm
1. COME TO THE TABLE
Be willing to discuss ideas and options. What is your big picture vision of farming with your parents and your siblings?
The accountant can give you some creative share structure options, partnership and operating agreements once you are clear about what each sibling needs. Share your “why” or intent for the things you are asking for.
2. INVOLVE THE DAUGHTER-IN-LAWS
Readers have been asking for an article on daughter-in-laws who farm. I am her. I am a farm partner who supports the farm team. Some daughters-in-law are more active agronomists, livestock keepers, and bookkeepers. Everyone’s role can look different, but all are important. In my books, the farmer’s spouse can be a daughter-in-law or a son-in-law. The daughter-in-law needs to understand what kind of debt is going to be serviced and be clear that she is willing to help bring in cash or income for family living. If she is a homemaker, that is fine, but the farm will have to cash flow more revenue for debt-servicing. Is this viable?
3. KNOW YOUR FAMILY LIVING COSTS
You need to eat and be clothed. Parents cannot be expected to give you a free ride with free house rent or utilities forever. Once you cover your basic living costs, what do you have left for servicing debt or buying assets? You need disposable cash to grow.
4. REALIZE THAT YOU WILL ALWAYS BE THE OLDEST, MIDDLE OR YOUNGEST CHILD
You cannot change your birth order or become older to “catch up” to your older farming sibling. You can grow up, be mature, and make responsible choices with your time, resources, and energy. I know a young rancher who worked hard with neighbors to make hay arrangements for his growing cattle herd, and he also bartered his labor to get ahead. He was not using his youth as an excuse to just coast.
5. VISIT YOUR LENDER AND FIND OUT WHAT YOU ARE GOOD FOR REGARDING LOANS
Do you know your net worth? How much money could you come up with quickly to leverage some debt for an awesome opportunity to gain assets to farm? You might not be able to afford land, but can you access some rented land and pay for inputs? Your mom would like you to be independent with your living (laundry, meals, etc. ) and ready to be independent financially.
6. BE PATIENT
It took your parents 40 years to get where they are today. It is 2016, and farming has big dollars attached to the adventure. Be open to learning more about financial transparency. Negotiate what you are willing to commit to and for how long. If your parents are going to roll over or gift assets, they want to know that their wealth will be protected. They also want your marriage to be strong and enduring. Set some reasonable timelines and dates on paper so that everyone can digest what a workable timeline is for everyone to get closer to their farming goals.
7. REMEMBER TO BOOK TIME FOR FUN
Strong families celebrate. I wish you could see the tears in Mom’s eyes (and Dad’s) at the end of a family meeting when she tells her adult farming children that she is proud of them and loves them dearly. Appreciation and encouraging the heart of your farm business is done with words of affirmation, gifts, and time spent together with gratitude. Don’t kid yourself that all the stuff you collect in your house is important; life is not about things. Write your folks some nice words in a card this year.
8. DECIDE EVERY DAY HOW YOU ARE GOING TO INTENTIONALLY ADD TO YOUR FARM FAMILY’S EMOTIONAL BANK ACCOUNT
When siblings farm together, especially at different stages of the family life cycle, they need to recognize that they will always be in different phases of that cycle. Parents are not responsible for making all of their children economically equal, yet their heartstrings are pulled to want to help each child achieve success. Farm owners may want to help the younger siblings, just as they have helped the older farm and non-farm siblings in their own way. This is not an easy dance. The founders need to take care of their own income streams for the next 30 years and protect their wealth as they make the transition of ownership gradually. It also helps if there is a “personal wealth bubble,” as Merle Good says, to help draw non-farm cash for living needs as we age.
9. YOUR MOM WILL ALWAYS BE YOUR MOM
Someday mom and dad may also be your business partner. This is where role confusion really mucks people up. They cannot switch “hats” as they relate to each other in the different roles they play. Practice saying, “As your child, I feel valued and respected as a member of this family, and as your future business partner I am looking forward to creating solutions to make a great future for my own family .”