Though farmers often like to joke about continuing to farm forever or never retiring, the truth is that at some point, every farm leader will be handing over the reigns to a new leader. And how you handle that transfer has a major impact on your operation.
Whether it’s a planned date on the calendar that you and the next leader have determined together – or an unforeseen event or circumstance that suddenly creates the need for a leadership transfer – your farm’s next leader needs to first be aware and ready for their future role, and then taking an active role in preparing themselves for it every day.
Who is it?
First, you need to know who the next leader is going to be. This might seem obvious, but in the case of many farms, there may not be a “next generation” farmer who is already working on the farm. Maybe no one in the next generation has an interest in coming back to the operation.
When there isn’t a clear next leader, the current leadership needs to get creative if they want their operation to continue into the future. They might consider starting a work or internship program to attract young, would-be farmers who come from non-farm families, and using that to groom and select a future potential leader or leaders.
Even if there is a next generation farmer already working on the farm, they need to hear from you about what the future could hold in terms of leadership or ownership. Otherwise, they’re in the dark, working hard with hopes that one day they might achieve such goals. Their work ethic will show you their level of passion for farming and for your family operation – and having conversations with them about the future should boost that passion.
Plan it out
Once you and your future leader have had discussions about what the future might hold for them in terms of leadership possibilities, the two of you can work together on a plan to better prepare them. Even if a planned leadership transition is ten or twenty years in the future, it’s a good time for them to start getting familiar with the types of decisions and challenges you currently deal with as the leader.
Consider ways they can shadow you through your decision-making, as well as exposing them to topics they may not have had as much experience with yet in their farming career. Many young farmers now come back to the farm with ag-related college degrees, which can give them a boost. However, keep in mind they might still lack in terms of practical experience and application, even in that area.
For example, think of a young farmer with a degree in ag business – yet who has no practical experience running a business. Think of ways to help them gain more real-world experience.
Maybe they start a side business that they’re solely responsible for running – with guidance from you, as needed. How they handle this can show you a lot in terms of how they think and make business decisions, while you’re still at the wheel of the overall operation.
Another area where many future farm leaders might not have much experience is in making marketing plans and marketing grain. You need a plan to help them get experience with this. Work with our market advisors, who bring education and market plans as you prepare your future leader.