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Crucial farm transition management conversations: In-laws joining farm operation

With corn soybean harvest upon us farm safety is key

The other day at a young farmer and rancher conference, an intriguing question was asked. How can a son-in-law or daughter-in-law bring up the conversation about joining the farm operation or possible ownership? In this case, they have already been contributing labor to the farm for a number of years.

This topic is a very common issue in farm transition management. Often the younger generation family members are intimidated particularly if they have provided labor for the business for quite a while. What will frequently occur is that time will slip by and months become years without these important questions being asked and answered, which often ends up being disastrous to all generations involved.

To start this crucial conversation, your ag lender or advisory team can play an important role as a third party, starting the dialogue. An astute lender or advisor will ask each key person in the business to write down their short-term and long-term business, family and personal goals. This articulation requested by a third party can be less intimidating to all parties involved. However, it plays an important role in the evolution of the business to have clarity on future direction, both for the ag lender and the advisory team, as well as business stakeholders.

Farm transition planning: Communicate, use experts, keep focused
"The sooner you start, the more options there are" says Brian Hensley, Water Street Solutions. There are three things in the process: Open the dialogue, build a team of experts, keep focused."

Another method is for the younger generation to take a course in which the lesson plans or assignments require discussion concerning future roles and direction of the stakeholders. In our Farm Credit University online Ag Biz Planner course, exit interviews with young participants find that discussion of these crucial conversations through assignments is very valuable and they encouraged the senior generation to open up. Another option is for the younger and older generation to attend a local business transition planning workshop together, which may help to raise some of the important questions, encourage the crucial conversations, and get people to start thinking.

Let’s be blunt. In one instance, the lack of discussion of these issues sent signals to the junior generation that they needed to go in a different direction for their career, which they did successfully since no clarity was given regarding the farm business. One of the saddest outcomes in transition management is when a younger family member devotes decades of their life to keep the business legacy alive, only to have it all taken away because these crucial conversations have not taken place.

To all the son-in-laws and daughter-in-laws – as well as sons and daughters – in this situation, utilize these third parties or mechanisms to provoke crucial conversations as you map your journey into the business.

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