As many of us know very well, farming and farm businesses are often connected through family ties. Many of us work with our family members every day on the farm. We’re used to navigating the challenges that can come with working with family – for example, the different ways we might interact with our brother or dad based on whether we’re working in the operation or attending a family holiday celebration.
You might be spending more time to celebrate with family at this time of year, so it’s often a good chance to think about the communication habits or patterns that we can fall into, particularly with family members on the farm.
One thing this dynamic can impact is the future of the farm itself – how the family talks, or doesn’t talk, about it. In some families, the future could even become somewhat of a taboo subject. That can lead to a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty about what’s going to happen, and whether certain family members will have a place on the farm in the future.
Clarity is needed
This can be problematic for a family operation for several reasons. First, not planning for the farm’s future means that there’s probably not a clear sense of where the farm is heading. With a lack of direction, it can be more difficult to plan and make decisions for the business in the coming weeks, months or years.
As I mentioned, this can also create a lot of unnecessary anxiety and uncertainty for those on the farm – particularly for the younger generation. If the future isn’t discussed at all, or maybe just in very vague terms, without a clear plan, they can begin to wonder if they have any future on the farm at all.
These questions can begin to loom large in their minds if months and years pass without any indication that this subject will soon be addressed. At the same time, they may also feel that it’s not their place to bring it up with the older generation, so they remain silent – while worries build inside of them.
Communicate for the future
Failing to talk about and plan for the farm’s future can also spell trouble if an unexpected event were to happen in the family, such as a family member’s sudden death, a divorce, or an owner deciding to leave the operation. A lack of planning for these types of situations can lead to problems and headaches that can often be accounted for in good estate and legacy plans.
Good forward-looking planning helps to combat any previous lack of clarity. The process is a way to steer the operation toward the direction the family wants the operation to go.
Is everyone in your family clear on where the farm is heading? Does everyone know what that desired future looks like – and their part in making it happen? Is there a shared vision around the farm’s future goals? Are there clear plans for who will be involved, and how? Is there opportunity for additional family members to join the operation?
Is the farm and family protected from unexpected events that can impact the operation? Will the farm be able to continue running smoothly even if such an event were to occur? As you consider these questions, you might want to talk with an advisor for the farm to help with getting future plans set up.