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3 reasons why farming families don’t get along: Part one in a series

Recognize the differences in what creates a successful family and what creates a successful business.

Why can completely normal families who enjoy spending time with each other, and seem to get along, have such a tough time working together on the farm? 

Most likely you have observed a neighbor's family struggling with this. There is nothing you can put your finger on and yet it doesn't appear everyone is pulling in the same direction. Look closely and you might see instances of a son showing a lack of initiative, or Dad blowing his cool while Mom advocates on her son’s behalf. Meanwhile, the daughter-in-law wants to leave the farm and the conflict. 

Why is a family business so hard?  

1 Profit motive meet connection motive

Working with family in a family business is hard because there are inherent differences in what creates a successful family and what creates a successful business. The common denominator between the family system and the business system is people. These people are both family and business partners. Each family member has two roles in the operation. One is based on merit, the other is based on bloodlines.

2 Businesses are meritocracies

Most successful businesses thrive when the people involved are employed based on their merit. Family farms are no different and thrive when the people involved, whether family or employees, are employed and compensated based on their abilities.

The abilities of the people on your family farm are vital because they ultimately drive the one thing all family farms need to continue opperations: profits. Unfortunately, this system can also ignore those family members who have the blood connection to the farm, but aren’t necessarily suited to a position of leadership.

3 Families are more socialistic

Families do not have a profit motive but rather they have a connection motive. These connections often are the result of shared memories, traditions and blood. On some level, everyone in the family is equal because the bloodlines are the same. Admittance and acceptance into the family has nothing to do with skill or merit but rather what is running through your veins.

Family traditions and values are slow and highly resistant to change. Shared family memories are passed down through generations as a way of appreciating the family heritage, and strengthening family bonds. The downside of this system is that, often, family members will feel like they deserve their position or rank on the farm, rather than have that position based on needed skills for the position.

Implications for your future?

If families are indeed more socialistic, and businesses are meritocracies, what are the implications for the modern family farm? Are these two seemingly opposing systems able to coxist peacefully and successfully?

No one wants to see the family farm fail because of conflict and ill feeling, but at the same time, we must acknowledge the family ties that bring us together in the first place. We will explore these challenges in two more blog posts in the coming weeks.

Tim Schaefer founded Encore Consultants to provide specialized advising and coaching to farm families and agribusiness at the crossroads of change.  With over 20 years of experience advising farmers, Tim was an early pioneer of peer advisory groups for agriculture as a way for successful farmers to gain knowledge, ideas and skills from each other in a non-competitive environment. Tim can be reached at or

The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Penton Agriculture.

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