Are you being held hostage by your family? Part 1

A family farm business can become a family stand-off.

Farming is often a family business – and if you’ve ever worked in a family business, you know there are additional challenges that come with working with family. It’s just not the same as businesses where the majority of the employees aren’t related to each other.

Communication is a big deal in a family business. On your farm, do family members all communicate well with each other? Or do they only speak to each other when they have to – and there are feuds brewing beneath the surface?

Is there a legacy plan for what’s going to happen to the farm when the older generation retires? Has the plan been discussed and communicated clearly with the farm’s next generation? Have they had the opportunity to voice their thoughts and opinions?

Held hostage

Maybe there’s no legacy plan yet at all. When there’s no clear path for the future of the farm, emotions can start to run high.

On one family farm, the ‘older generation’ included three brothers who farmed together. One of the brothers has a son who was working for the family operation, as well as for another operation in the area. The son hoped to eventually work on the family farm full-time.

The brothers didn’t talk very much about the future of the business and had never set aside time to plan for the farm’s future. For years, the son tried to initiate conversations with his dad and uncles about ways or timelines for him to work in to the business full-time.

But as his questions and concerns were tabled or brushed to the side time after time, he became very frustrated. Eventually, he realized he wasn’t going to get any answers. That led to his discouragement about having any future on his family’s farm.

The son began to feel like he was being ‘held hostage’ by his family’s inaction. He continued to express his feelings to the older generation, but realized there was no clear path of action, nor any indication that one would be coming in the next few years.

When offered a full-time job by the other farmer he had been working for, the son decided to take it. He felt that farmer had a clear vision for where he was taking his business. The son decided he wanted to be a part of that farm rather than continue to live in uncertainty for what could be many years.

A clear path

When a family member feels like a hostage, it’s important to recognize what’s happening. That can provide an opportunity to open up some difficult, yet necessary conversations about the future.

I’ll be writing more next week on how you can tell if you’re a hostage or if you’re holding someone else hostage in your family farm business. Until then, here are two questions to ask yourself:

-Is my farm’s business plan developed to the point where I can realistically evaluate opportunities – such as having the next generation come in to the business?

-If we decide the next generation is coming in, do I have a legacy plan in place – with timelines – for how that’s going to happen?

Read the new issue of the Smart Series publication, bringing business ideas for today’s farm leader. This issue features ideas on preparing for land opportunities, thinking ahead about retirement, how to keep pace with the changes of the 2016 crop year, and more advice for farm leaders. Get your free online issue here.

Click here for a link to part two in the series.


The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Penton Agriculture.

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