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How to grow successful partnerships with kids who return to the farm

  • 3 min read

Children returning to the family farm from higher education, or another career often bring new ideas and perspectives with them. They also have hopes and expectations, just like the older generation.

For some farm families, realistic planning and open communication are critical to achieving those expectations. Only then can they converge on what most benefits the farm business and those involved.

Put goals to paper

For Lauren Maurer and her husband Ryan, farmers from Grenfell, Sask., bringing the next generation into the farm begins with a spreadsheet. They use it to document everyone’s goals and what they see themselves doing on the farm for the next few years.

This basic visual allows them to discuss how the goals could be achieved – and if they’re realistic.

“It’s a way of communicating and allowing her to take a step,” says Maurer about their daughter (one of their three children), who now manages most of the farm’s financial records.

Maurer uses a red light, yellow light, green light system in conjunction with the spreadsheet. Ideas deemed workable get the greenlight and those requiring more work receive yellow.

In cases where the younger generation’s goals are not perceived to make sense or not supported by the older generation, instead of an immediate red light, they hold roundtable discussions to see if they can find middle ground.

Ask, “Why do we exist?”

Fundamentally, all parties must agree on why the farm exists.

Children bringing new ideas to the business are more likely to succeed if Maurer sees them accompanied by numbers and depth. In other words, do the math, and develop a multi-year plan.

Fundamentally, she believes all parties must agree on why the farm exists – particularly since tangible goals can and often do change. If that’s not possible, open communication can also help ensure a problem-free exit.

“Having more people multiplies your world. We need to align everyone’s vision,” she says. “If we want to go in two directions, then we probably need to part. But if we can find synergy, why not?”

Keep advisors - and an open mind

Encouraging the next generation to continually learn and keep a team of trusted advisors is one of several strategies used by Garnet Martin, a farmer from Watrous, Sask.

As a guest on a transition-focused episode of FCC Knowledge Podcast: Talking Farm and Food, Martin described reiterating to returning family how they should not expect to know and do everything. The right people can help you weather tough times and make better business decisions.

“Surround yourself with knowledgeable people, successful people, and understand that you’ve got a lot to learn. And I’m not saying that to be mean to a young person. But sometimes you come in, and you know, ‘Oh, I know how to do this. This is going to be easy.’  No, it’s not,” he says.

“You’ve got to start learning... build a really strong team in all the different areas you want to learn.”

Like Maurer, Martin believes being open about what everyone expected was critical in his own succession story.

“We looked at everybody’s goals and everything, and we couldn’t lock everything in stone and give a direct map of how this would play out. But we had a very good sense of everybody, and everybody was aboard.”

Bottom line

Welcoming the younger generation back to the farm can sometimes be tricky. Embracing new ideas and learnings while moderating enthusiasm can be a fine line. Creating a spreadsheet with family members’ goals and vision of their place on the farm in the years ahead may help bring some reality to the new ideas. It also helps when fresh concepts are researched, well thought-out and planned.

Article by: Matt McIntosh