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

Can You Farm Together? Tough Questions Require Honest Assessment

July 4, 2011

These are some tough questions you need to ask before getting involved in an inter-generational farm. Parents pass farms to male children 95 percent of the time. This column reflects that reality.

Questions about the son: Did you have a good relationship with him when he was a preteen or teenager? How stubborn is he? Can he handle criticism and learn from mistakes without becoming defensive? Is he easy to get along with? As a teenager, did he act out against authority figures and family rules? Has your close contact on the farm developed a bond between you?

If he was difficult as a teenager, have his post-high school experiences changed him? Can you trust and respect him? Do you still clash? Does either of you have a problem with temper? Has he been away from the farm long enough so you have an adult/adult relationship without his immaturity clouding the relationship?

If he is single, is he still too dependent on you for his basic needs? Does he let his social life take priority over his farming responsibilities?

If he is married, how well does his wife understand teamwork and farming? Will she enjoy the farming lifestyle and rural living? Will her irritations or self-centeredness cause tensions and conflict?

Does your son like and take pride in fulfilling farm responsibilities? Is he dependable? How is his work ethic? Does he enjoy learning new things? Does he have a knack for problem-solving and showing good judgment in his work? Has he learned to take a management perspective?

How well does he understand and manage his own money? Does he have a grasp of the amount of money involved in farming and the risks involved? How well does he handle stress? Does he view farming with relative optimism and feel confident about the prospects for the future? Have your stressful times caused him to view farming as an undesirable lifestyle?

If he has brothers who might be potential farming partners someday, how well do they get along? Are they too competitive? How well do they work together? The same questions apply to a brother-in-law who is also a farming partner.

Has he been away from the farm long enough so that his motivation to farm is based on his own genuine choice and not just the path of least resistance? Have his skills and interests given him an attractive alternative to farming if it becomes necessary?

Can these skills be used to supplement the farm income if needed? Do these skills complement your own skills and enable him to make valuable and unique contributions to the farming operation?

Questions about the parents: Has farming been beneficial to their marriage and helped them have generally happy lives? Do they have a life outside of farming? Do they have other interests and goals that will make them interested in retirement someday? Can they enjoy leisure? Will they resent you for taking time off and

for having a personal and social life apart from the farm?

Do you respect your parents’ farming experience and their overall management ideas? Will you clash over big decisions and overall strategic planning? If you have had conflict in your relationship in the past, have they changed? Have they really changed or is your desire to farm clouding your judgment?

Can Dad delegate work without micro-managing the process? Can your parents use democratic decision-making and a "give and take" exchange of ideas? How critical and perfectionist are they when it comes to mistakes and problems?

Do you see your parents as willing to share management and be open to new ideas? Do you trust their word? How well can you negotiate with them about your interests?

Do they intrude into your social life and lifestyle? Do they understand boundaries or will they try to meddle or control you?

Are your parents clear about whom the potential partners might be someday? Are there any weak links or difficult personalities for you to work around? Do you trust your parents to be fair in their estate plans? In their estate planning, are they committed to the farm being kept viable as a business?

Questions about economics: Can the farm provide the income needed for every family in the business? Is the farm over-leveraged so that major problems can develop and quickly mushroom? Is there more than enough work to keep everybody busy?

As a son, how well can you handle the stress of a down year and work your way through difficulties? Can you supplement the farm’s income if you had to?

Can you be satisfied with building equity over time and to take a conservative approach to personal lifestyle and rewards? Can you take a long term perspective on getting a return on your work and financial investments? Can you make the necessary sacrifices during a building process? If you are married, does your wife understand farm income issues and will she cooperate with long-term goals?

As parents, do you have enough income to provide an estate plan that will provide for both the farming and non-farming heirs without jeopardizing the viability of the farm? How strong is your commitment to keep the farm going? Can you make personal and financial sacrifices to bring partners into your business?

See any red flags? Failing this test might save you a real failure later.