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How do you motivate older generations to change?

Encouraging the 50 years and older farmers to change from “doers” to “planners,” and start using new tools.

How does one motivate a 50+ year old “doer” farmer to become a better planner and manager? This was one of the questions asked during a panel discussion in the Northwest region of the country. Based on my conversations with producers around the country, motivating the older generation to change is one of the biggest frustrations of younger producers entering a family business with older parents, aunts, and uncles.

In many farm businesses, the older generation is often a baby boomer or a member of the veteran generation. Many of these individuals farmed in an era when more production often resulted in higher profits. This group was very fortunate to experience asset appreciation, specifically in land, after the turbulent 1980s farm crisis. Another factor leading to some complacency was that government farm program payments were extremely high at that time. These government payments often minimized many of the miscues in management and possible losses from macro events, weather, and rapid price changes.

One of the best methods to get this generation to change is in a time of crisis. For example, if the older generation is losing money show them how multiple years of losses are eating away their asset equity, otherwise known as the equity burn rate.

Another method to initiate change is to develop cost of production budgets. These budgets allow one to see the bigger picture with numbers, which can assist in the marketing or risk management program. The development of business, family and personal goals can also go a long way in opening communication between generations of business partners.

The younger generation is starting to reap the benefits of planning and are becoming more adaptive and innovative in a rapidly changing economic and marketing environment. While the older generation may have higher equity, this often results in complacency or procrastinating planning for the future.

My advice to every generation is that the power of equity, tenure and experience combined with youth, energy, forward planning and business management can take the business to the next level. In many cases, this rejuvenation will launch the business on the path of becoming sustainable into the next generation. Analogous to placing a puppy with an old dog, the old dog’s energy picks up or, in some cases, it kills the old dog!

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