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How will the farm’s next generation make decisions?

It doesn’t have to be an ‘all or nothing’ proposition

As the farm’s leader and CEO, you know there are many business decisions you must make for your operation each day. From big to small – the buck stops here, with you.

We’re responsible for making the final call, so we get good at efficient decision-making for our farm businesses. That’s a positive thing. However, when you want your farm’s legacy to continue and there’s another generation on the farm who hopes to lead in the future – it’s time to start thinking differently about decision-making.

Gradual steps

The next generation of leaders on the farm need to become part of the decision-making process. This doesn’t have to be an “all or nothing” proposition. You don’t need to completely hand over the decision-making reigns to them all at once – nor would that be a good idea! They’d be overwhelmed and it would likely lead to anxiety for both parties.

I’ve seen farms where the older generation leader passed away unexpectedly, and the younger generation hadn’t been brought in on any of the decision-making yet. For those farmers, their initiation into leadership was scary and emotional – but, if you take a few proactive steps, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Bring them in

Here are a few ideas of how to bring the next generation into the decision-making process. You can use the combination that works best for your operation’s unique situation.

  • Let them shadow you. The first step toward the next generation making decisions on the farm is to let them in on how you make those decisions. This can seem like a difficult step to take, but it’s very important that they learn from you, the current leader. Otherwise, they don’t have much of a place to start from in forming their own decision-making processes and skills. Bring them with you to meetings with landlords and lenders and talk about the meetings afterwards. Bring them to meetings with your market advisor and talk through marketing plans and decisions with them. Talk through your exact thought process with them as you make tough financial decisions. This will help open their eyes to how they need to be thinking about finances on the farm.
  • Carve out a “sandbox.” The concept of creating a “sandbox” for the farm’s next leader means setting apart an area of decision-making or a type of decision that they are responsible for. Start by giving them training in that area. Then, hand over the decision-making in just that area, and truly let them make all the decisions. It’s ok if they fail – in fact, they will fail at some point, but it will be small and contained enough that it’s not going to create an enormous impact. We often learn the most from our failures, so help them look back on any negative results with an eye toward learning for the future.
  • (For the younger generation) Be proactive. If you’re the “next generation” leader reading this and thinking, “I feel like I am in the dark about decision-making in our operation,” then be proactive. Talk with the older generation – in a respectful way that acknowledges how hard they’ve worked to make the operation what it is today – about how you’re feeling, how you hope to better understand their decision-making, and why. You can use this article as a springboard for that conversation. I think you’ll be glad you when you open this topic with the older generation – and they’ll be relieved as well.

If you’d like to discuss more ideas about how to bring the next generation into farm business decision-making – including marketing plans and decisions – you can get in touch with our advisors for the farm.

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