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Touchy subjects: How to bring up the farm’s future

It’s a tricky topic for family members to navigate, but worth it.

If you work with family members, you know the many benefits and joys of that experience. But as I’ve mentioned before in this blog, communication can be a challenge as you’re working with any other person – and family members are no exception to that rule.

Establishing good working relationships with family on the farm requires a lot of time, hard work, and dedication. Overall, the goal is worth it – better working relationships generally lead to better outcomes for the farm business as a whole – and a strong work relationship can pave the way for an even stronger family bond.

It takes a different mindset to shift from the type of family relationship you already have with them, into your business relationship when you’re working on the farm. You have to think differently when you’re operating in ‘business mode’ with them, versus your family roles.

On the table

Sometimes, one of the toughest things about working and communicating with your family members in a farm operation is how to approach discussions about the future. This is the case whether you’re thinking about business plans for the farm over the next five to ten years, or the transition of the operation from one generation to the next.

Because it’s such a tricky subject – one that many feel isn’t really their right to bring up – it can often go undiscussed among family members. The future can begin to seem very uncertain. Many of the family members may want these discussions to happen, but are too uncomfortable to bring the topic up.

If this is the case, the family may want to look into using someone from outside the farm – a non-family, third party. This person can guide the process of initiating and leading these future-based discussions.

Someone who isn’t connected to the farm operation in terms of family ties – such as a legacy advisor – may be able to ask questions that could feel awkward or uncomfortable for family members to ask. A skilled outside facilitator can often lead a discussion of topics that may have seemed almost taboo for family members to approach.

On the same page

Taking steps to get the right discussions moving is important. Otherwise, the operation can come to a sort of ‘standstill’, as family members each attempt to navigate what they believe the future can or should be like. They construct an individual vision in their head because they have nothing else to go on.

Often, those constructed versions may look very different from what the current generation of owners is imagining. Getting everyone on the same page is ultimately the key to moving forward together.

How’s your farm and family doing when it comes to getting a shared vision for the future together? Is everyone clear about what’s going to happen? Are there still any ‘taboo’ topics that people just aren’t comfortable talking about with each other? What might happen if it continues to be that way?

Assessing where your operation and family are currently at is the first step. Consider the level of communication about the future that’s happening now on your farm. If it’s not what you want it to be, you might talk with our advisors about what you can do.

Learn more: Read the new summer issue of our Smart Series publication, bringing business ideas for today’s farm leader. Hear one farm family’s story of getting on the same page about their farm’s future transition, plus perspectives on how to develop your replacement as a leader, building an employee base full of team players, key ratios for leaders to watch, and more.

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

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