Is Your Farm's Next Generation Learning to Make Decisions?

Intentional succession planning will be key to a smooth farm transition

Think about when you first started farming. How did you learn production skills? If your family farm was like most, you probably picked things up gradually by watching others do what you were trying to learn – or just jumping in and learning as you worked.

Since the greatest amount of learning usually takes place closest to the doing, learning new skills while doing your regular job on the farm can be an effective way to practice and learn a lot – especially for a new farm employee.

But some of the skills that the head of a farming operation will need in the future may need a different approach to the learning process. It needs to be more intentional than in the past, because there's greater complexity around these skills.

If you got your start farming as a member of the younger generation, you probably learned a lot from the older generation as you got ready to lead the operation. With time, they had you take more and more responsibility for decision-making and for making sure things were operating correctly.

They might not have spent time intentionally "training" you on how they made decisions for the farm, but you got a basic sense of how to do it. Then you probably developed your own way – over time – to best think through and make major decisions.

Now, you might be the older generation on the farm, thinking about how to start preparing the younger generation with the production and management skills they will need to run the operation. You "made it" primarily with hard work and good instincts, but as you've seen during your career, the ag world has become a very different place since you first started farming.

The key is that you can't assume the next generation automatically knows how to go about the decisions you've been making for years. There's no way to know if they go through a similar thought process like you do as you make those decisions, unless you work directly with them and take them through the process.

The key here is planning; Putting a clear succession and training plan in place for the next leaders of your operation. That way, both you and they can see the path they are on toward farm leadership. You have the opportunity to put, in writing, the things that will be most key for them to learn as they progress. Then, you can monitor to see if they are working on those areas.

The plan shows them the path they will need to take if they want to be a leader of the farming operation someday. It gives them the opportunity to work on those areas, especially the ones they need more practice and experience in.

This is the succession planning piece of the legacy plan for your farm. Unfortunately, it's one of the main reasons that family farms fail to transfer to the next generation. But by proactively discussing these topics with the younger generation on your farm, you can start setting up a plan for how they can prepare to take the reins through a smooth transfer.

Find more resources and information on succession and legacy planning for your family farm at www.waterstreet.org.

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

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