I once asked my dad when he knew it was time to put a new bull in with a group of cows. I think I was probably 10 or 11, we were talking about genetics in my science class, and our family’s cattle herd was my reference point at that age.
He told me it was simple, really. He said it was a matter of looking at the latest crop of calves and seeing if the bull was getting the job done. Did we have too many open cows? Did the calf crop meet performance measurements? Could we tweak our end product for our buyers by bringing in new genetics?
In short, without bringing new blood into the herd once in a while, we could face diminishing results.
That lesson has stuck with me over the years. Oh, not just the genetics component — but the grander theory that bringing new ideas into a business isn’t something to fear, but to encourage.
I think that’s why one of the stories I brought to you earlier this week, Sometimes it IS all fun and games, hit home for me. It’s a discussion about bringing new enterprises to your farm or ranch for added income and opportunities for growing family involvement.
These enterprises go by many names. For some it’s operating a corn maze and pumpkin patch. Others take a few acres from commodity production and put in a vegetable crop or two to sell at local farmers markets. Some farmers start up guided hunting operations, and others rent out their barns as wedding venues. There’s even those lucky few who have particularly scenic property that find themselves negotiating with Hollywood location scouts.
Whatever enterprise is added, the end goal is diversifying the business enough to financially sustain the farm and the multiple generations of families relying on it.
If your ultimate goal is to bring the next generation back to the family agribusiness, you have an obligation to plan for their financial security. And if you want the farm to grow, you have to consider new ideas and provide that next generation an opportunity to have ownership of something.
Otherwise — and I know this will sound harsh — it’s just indentured service. Ask yourself this: Do you want a healthy, productive operation that lasts? Then figure out a way to make room for something different.
That’s not to say you should leap into every opportunity that comes along. No one is saying you have to change the whole farm overnight into a petting zoo. Do your due diligence and research these opportunities. Ask your sons or daughters to create a business plan for their added enterprise, and consult with your trusted advisers to evaluate its potential.
But if there is a complementary activity that would fit into your production schedule and your available resources, then at least respect the young person in your family and listen to the idea. Give them the space to try and to learn and grow. Take the opportunity to mentor and guide them through these additional businesses.
You’re training your replacement, after all.
Change has value
Farms, a little bit like my dad’s cattle herd, should evolve and change with new ideas and new opportunities. If you want your family agribusiness to sustain multiple children and their families and be passed along to the next generation, you need to figure out what new ideas and opportunities are right for you.