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Returning to the Family Farm


I received an e-mail from a son who is contemplating the decision to return to the family farm. In this case, the son had graduated from a university with a degree in agribusiness. He is bright and has completed two successful internships with a cooperative and a business outside of agriculture.

The son was weighing the opportunity to return home to his family farm against other opportunities, both inside and outside of agriculture. However, he was given an ultimatum by his father. He could either return to the farm now, or, if not, he could forget about it being an option in the future if he decides to work away for a few years.

The son was puzzled with a high amount of tension. To compound matters, an older brother who worked with dad left because of an adversarial relationship with dad. The son was perplexed because he would like to explore other opportunities, but feels immense pressure from his dad. What should he do?

First, the son needs to determine what his position would be if he returns the farm. Would he have job responsibilities and accountability? What would be the salary, perks and opportunity for ownership and equity? How does this compare with off-farm opportunities?

The son in this case will have to take a strong look at possible outside opportunities. His tone in the e-mail suggests that now is not the right time to return. The pressure to return by the father needs a mature examination by the older generation. It appears that prior issues with the older son have created apprehension for the younger son.

Dad needs to let go, manage the business without the son and allow an opportunity to carry the family legacy on with a viable operation. If the son does not return to the business, if well managed, the business is worth more and would be more attractive to someone in the younger generation, either inside or outside the family. This pressure as stated in the e-mail illustrates some flaws in the dad's management style. If the son does return, it could result in a lifetime of undue pressure that could be detrimental to all parties.


Editor’s note: Dave Kohl, Corn & Soybean Digest trends editor, is an ag economist specializing in business management and ag finance. He recently retired from Virginia Tech, but continues to conduct applied research and travel extensively in the U.S. and Canada, teaching ag and banking seminars and speaking to producer and agribusiness groups. He can be reached at [email protected]

TAGS: Management
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