Question: Our 23-year-old daughter is graduating from college in the spring. She is majoring in animal science with a dairy emphasis and plans to return to the farm. Originally, she was planning to take over the management of our dairy herd, and we were going to expand from 140 cows to 300 cows. But with low milk prices, we have decided to put the expansion on hold for a couple of years. Would it be better for her to come home and work for us for two years, get a feel for the farm, learn everything that has to be done, and then when we are ready to expand in two years, she will know if this is what she wants to do, or should she work for someone else for two years and find out how a well-managed dairy operates? If she returns to the farm in the spring, we will have to help one of our two employees find another job. Please advise.
Hodorff: As a family business, our family members are required to have worked away from the farm for at least three years. This helps them experience employment other than in the family business. They learn accountability to an employer and supervisors. I would strongly support having your daughter work off the farm. As you stated, people can experience a different culture and some real-life experiences. This will also give you the comfort of knowing that dairying is what she wants to do. I would also encourage you to build a long-term plan together for this transition. Some real-life experience is very valuable.
Miller: Sounds like it’s time for a family meeting. Your daughter will learn many work and life skills by working for someone else, including that there are different ways to manage and operate a dairy business than what is done “at home." She will have the opportunity to earn some money and potentially build up some equity to eventually work into an ownership position at your farm, and you will have a couple more years to work on all aspects of your planned expansion, including the facilities, financial structure, young stock, crops, feeding, etc. One additional benefit, if she were to work off the farm, is you would be able to retain all your employees, as you will likely need them if you expand the business down the road. Your daughter can gain valuable experience by working elsewhere for a couple of years before coming back home. You will find her more committed if she makes the decision to come home in a couple of years than if she comes back now in more of a labor vs. management capacity. Good luck with your conversations and eventual plans for the growth of your business.
Hagedorn: As is the case with many questions asked in the Agrivision column, good communication between the parties involved becomes key in problem-solving. It appears to me that you and your daughter should have a discussion on what she wants most and where she can realize the most potential (which you can benefit from) as a young herd manager and, ultimately, owner in the future. If your daughter can continue to benefit and expand her managerial skills by remaining at home, that should put you all in a wonderful position to look seriously at expansion in a couple of years. By the way, I applaud you for the empathy and support you are showing your current employee(s). On the other hand, if you have imparted as much knowledge and experience to her as you are able, the potential for her to expand her knowledge base by working at a different facility may open new windows to life lessons and experience. With this experience in hand, she could return and be even more of an asset as an expansion is considered in two years. Good luck and best wishes as you and your family work through this decision-making process.
Agrivision panel: Doug Hodorff, Fond du Lac County dairy farmer; Sam Miller, managing director, agricultural banking at BMO Harris Bank; and Katie Wantoch, Dunn County Extension agriculture agent specializing in economic development. Filling in for Wantoch while she is on maternity leave is Mark Hagedorn, Eau Claire County Extension dairy and livestock agent. If you have questions you would like the panel to answer, send them to: Wisconsin Agriculturist, P.O. Box 236, Brandon, WI 53919, or email them to [email protected]