Quebec farm transitions through 11 generations
Photo courtesy of christianblais.com
The Langlois family’s transition story began in 1667. 11 generations later, the family continues their tradition of giving, not selling the farm to the next generation.
The road that runs along the St. Lawrence River’s north shore from Montreal to Quebec City is known as the Chemin du Roy (King’s Road). Built during the French regime, it was the colony’s very first road.
In 1667, shortly before marrying a fille du roy (king’s daughter) named Élizabeth Crêtel, Nicolas Langlois acquired land in Neuville – along Chemin du Roy – that he and Élizabeth eventually willed to their 10 children.
The generations have followed one another and today, passing through Neuville, you can see the farm still exists. It now belongs to the 11th generation of Langlois, brothers Daniel and Médé.
The farm now covers 300 acres and is dedicated to market gardens and field crops. There’s a 40-cow dairy barn, a multipurpose building and a line of stalls displaying fresh vegetables. A storefront offers prepared products from the industrial kitchen in back. Here and there, panels recount the farm’s remarkable history and explain how the vegetables are grown and processed.
Daniel and Médé’s transition story happened gradually, starting in 1989 when Daniel came home to work on the farm – degree in hand. His parents, Fernand and Murielle, gave him 20 per cent of their shares. Médé came home in 1994, and within a few years their parents had split all their shares equally between the brothers. “One morning,” Médé says, “our father told us, ‘Boys, you get along well. We’re going to give you our shares so you’re equal partners.’”
Gifted, not sold
In keeping with tradition, the Langlois farm was given, not sold, to the next generation. This isn’t a new idea in agriculture, but generally the parties agree on a price that meets the parents’ financial needs for retirement and allows the next generation to pay off loans and cover their cost of living.
Fernand and Murielle were able to make the gift because they have their pension incomes and continue to work on the farm (although without a fixed salary). “If we needed a thousand bucks tomorrow, the farm would give it to us, of course,” Fernand says.
They had never considered transferring the farm in any other way, as a matter of principle. “Our family has been working this land for 350 years and it has never been sold from one generation to the next; it has always been handed down for free,” Fernand says.
Celebrating family history
The Langlois family’s long history has become part of its stock in trade. After repeatedly telling their story to customers, Médé had the idea of developing an ecomuseum, a business that showcases the know-how of its artisans. Hence the panels, photos and tools on display.
The family ecomuseum is dedicated to the farm’s history, as well as its canning and corn production – and Neuville corn is reputed to be the best in Quebec. It even bears a protected geographical indication, meaning the area it’s grown in is considered responsible for the corn’s quality and characteristics.
Photo courtesy of André Piette
Nathalie arranges the preserves sold in the storefront.
The 60 acres of sweet corn and other vegetables reserved for selling on-site add another dimension to the farm. All produce remaining in the stalls at day’s end is processed into products – like sauces and canned vegetables – by Murielle and her team. The farm has a loyal clientele bolstered by the many tourists who drive the Chemin du Roy, making proximity to Quebec City another valuable asset.
In recent years, the Langlois family farm has increased cropland and engaged in more development projects. “Our priority now is to be more efficient in the field,” Médé says. Smiling, he adds, “We also want to reduce the pressure in terms of debt.”
Human capital is what counts
Céline Lafortune works as a business transfer advisor at Lanaudière Économique (in French only) development agency. In her 13 years in the business, she has helped owners of all types and sizes of operations.
“It’s natural to worry about taxes,” she says. “There are tools you can use so the transfer is advantageous to both parties. Because of the legislation and structures in place, producers transferring the farm in whole or in part really have to speak to a tax specialist, but also an accountant, a notary and a credit advisor.”
What people tend to forget is the human aspect – transition preparation. “From the outset,” Lafortune says, “you should decide when you want to make the transfer, what you want to do afterward and how much money you need to live on.”
The scenario often hinges on a gradual transfer of the business and thus on co-management, so you should pay particular attention to how responsibility is transferred. Lafortune believes it’s an aspect worth planning and can help the next generation develop business skills.
Another critical factor is a shared vision of where the business is going. “Often, young people arrive with their heads full of ideas, when the (older generation) don’t necessarily want big projects and to invest millions of dollars,” she says.
From an AgriSuccess article by André Piette.