Farming with family: Joys and challenges

Farming with family: Joys and challenges

Family farms face unique issues when it comes to generational transitions, hiring additional family members

This holiday season, you've probably had the opportunity to celebrate and spend time with family members. As family gathers, it can remind us of the many blessings and benefits of being involved with a farm – whether or not we farm with family members.

Related: Build a business-first family farm

Farming with family can certainly be a joy. There's the chance to interact with family members in a business setting, seeing talents that we might not otherwise get to see. There's the chance to work side by side on the farm and share in the challenges and opportunities of the business.

Family farms face unique issues when it comes to generational transitions, hiring additional family members (Thinkstock/_ba_)

But there are also challenges encountered by family farm businesses that can't or don't happen in a non-family business. Most people don't see their boss, co-workers or employees at the family Christmas celebration right after they've talked through an issue related to the farm business.

All in the family
There can be challenges when it comes to transitioning a family farm business, as well. One farm family found themselves in a tough and emotional situation when it came to their farm business – and the family members who were working in it.

Dad had built a great farm operation. At different times, one by one, his grown children each expressed the desire to come back and work on the family farm. He wanted all of them to get the opportunity to be part of the family operation, so when each one asked, he decided to let them come back.

Unfortunately, he did not do any analysis to determine whether this would be financially possible. Could the farm produce enough revenue to support an additional family? Would it be possible for the additional child to continue farming even when Dad retired, and when the older generation passed away?

Business planning
These are important questions to ask and answer whenever a family member expresses their desire to work on the farm. The farm is, first and foremost, a business, one that's owned and operated by family members.

The farm must be run as a business, and so the first step is to determine whether it's financially feasible to take on another employee or owner. Another business question that must be asked is: Does the farm currently need the skill set of the potential new employee?

Related: Boost effective communication among family

If the decision is made to add another family member to the farming operation, there needs to be a direction for their role in the future of the farm – through the farm's legacy plan. What's in place to ensure that your family members will be able to continue to farm, even when the older generation is no longer involved?

Read more about how to protect the family farm during a transition, and hear about one family's farm transition journey as the farm is passed from the older to the younger generation. It's all in the new, free winter issue of the Smart Series publication, bringing business ideas for today's farm leader.

The opinions of Darren Frye are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or the Penton Farm Progress Group.


Investing in a knowledgeable advisor and thinking about answers to key questions before putting pen to paper can make creating a farm estate plan much less complicated. Use the Penton Agriculture free report, Farm succession planning: Customizing a farm estate plan to get started on your own plan.

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