Dr. Val FarmerDr.Val
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Role Of Creativity In Farm Family Succession

April 7, 2008

One of the obvious options open to farm children is the possibility of succession on the family farm. There are a lot of considerations and life to be lived before that possibility can become a reality.

Most parents in agriculture have the goal of passing on the farm as they themselves probably had that choice, chose it and hopefully enjoyed and profited by it. The test of viability of any enterprise is whether it is capable of growth and reproduction.

There are plenty of challenges for succession in agriculture. Let me list a few.

1. Create profitability in a mature entrepreneurial enterprise in a global free market economy.

2. Master complex agronomics and animal husbandry.

3. Market products successfully.

4. Have mechanical prowess.

5. Integrate farming and family life to enjoy a family and marriage friendly lifestyle.

6. Work cooperatively and effectively in the context of family business relationships and with hired employees.

7. Have self-discipline, work hard, defer gratification, use judgment in management, manage personal stress, manage debt and finances and communicate well in personal and business relationships.

8. Parent children in such a way that they enjoy being around you, experience fun, happiness, love and well-being in the family, develop attitudes and skills that contribute to the enterprise and feel the freedom to choose their own path in life. The goal of raising a family on a family farm will be one of the driving motivations for children to choose to farm.

9. Encourage and support advanced education and success experiences away from the farm and hope that one of your children will voluntarily embrace farming as his or her chosen profession and lifestyle. He or she will need to find and marry a supportive spouse who can adapt to the lifestyle and demands of farming and join in an intergenerational partnership based on mutual trust and respect.

10. Make enough money to leave a viable and intact enterprise, provide a fair inheritance to all family members and have enough personal resources for retirement and old age.

11. Be ahead of the curve when it comes to change, innovation and technology. Be captivated by learning new things, some that are practical and some for the sheer sake of learning.

12. Manage your enterprise in such a way that your children satisfy their need for challenge, growth and creativity.

We need challenge. It is the last two points that I wish to elaborate upon. As human beings, unless we are hampered by fear and anxiety, our minds are so constructed that we thrive on problem-solving in meeting both daily and long term challenges. If your children want challenge, the list above is pretty daunting.

It is in the detail of science, the thrill of improvement and innovation, the power from integration of systems, the satisfaction of building for the future, and the joy of creating something new that energizes young farmers. To see this kind of opportunity, they need to be able to see it modeled by their fathers.

Modeling excitement. You have to be in the game yourself. Your own attitudes about learning, growth and expansion will set the tone for their approach to farming. They won’t be attracted to a profession they see as stagnant, uninteresting, full of stress and drudgery.

If you are going through the motions to maintain a farm, not staying up with technology, being too content with the status quo, or not expanding in such a way that provides excitement and challenge, then their vision of farming will be limited not only by what they see, but actual consequences of passivity in growth that will make the farm non-competitive in the future.

Giving children the reins. Besides modeling aggressive learning and risk-taking, parents need to show respect and trust in their children. They encourage children to try things and give them early opportunities to learn from their own experiences.

Fathers learn to step aside and not get in the way. They address mistakes and failures as learning experiences by being gentle teachers and coaches. They are comfortable in the consultant or advisor role and respond when approached. Actually, effective farmer fathers and their farming children share in the excitement of learning and enjoy the process of discovery together. They have fun discussing farming ad infinitum.

It is in this attitude of meaningful delegation and encouragement to experiment that children will experience the intellectual and emotional excitement that comes with exploring the complexities of nature, agricultural economics, and joy of conceiving of something and bringing it to fruition.

Young farmers see new possibilities and need the support of their parents in trusting their management. They need the sacrifices parents make as they continually get out of their financial comfort zone to provide opportunities for innovation and expansion.

Both generations require courage and faith. The parenting generation requires the courage and motivation to keep on being ahead of the curve even when it is tempting to sit back and not push so hard. The rising generation requires the courage to be different, different from their peers and even different from Mom and Dad. They benefit from past experiences and wisdom but are not afraid to plunge ahead into new and uncharted territories.