I’m in the middle…I’m not so young, but not so old. Still, my husband Lloyd and I are thinking – and acting – in order to transition our farm business to future generations. I was reminded of our progress last week sitting across the table from three generations of Illinois grain farmers all with sparkle in their eyes as they talked about harvesting this year’s crop and planning for the future. Each one had something to contribute; teamwork was obvious across the ages present.
Now that we (Lloyd and I) are over 50, we have a different perspective on “young” farmers. I hope we still THINK more like young farmers, even though there is 30+ years of experience behind us.
Our journey (and it is a journey!) at transitioning the farm started more than 10 years ago, as we brought a young partner, Tim Strobel, into our dairy business to share in the risk and rewards. He started working for us as a teenager, sweeping mangers and switching cows. He is now nearing 40 and is taking on a larger stake in our LLC. Earlier this year, we added a second partner who is in his mid-20s: Jordan Matthews. Each brings a skill set to the table that complements our own. Both earned their opportunity to buy into the business.
Once a partner, transferring major responsibilities and business assets begins in earnest. We discuss financial issues, strategic planning and general farm management, all with an eye on positioning Rosy-Lane Holsteins for the future.
We each have our areas of expertise and meet fairly often to discuss overall progress and make major decisions. I like the ideas our partners bring to the table!
Our strategy is working thus far. It may not work for everyone. Non-related parties are not family, yet in some ways it makes our farm transition smoother as we all have to work that much more at communicating effectively, and it forces us to spell out a plan and set a timeline.
The younger business partners remind me of when we started farming, which Lloyd and I can still remember! So we offer some leeway to our partners, yet we also offer our seasoned advice. Some days there is a delicate balance! But slowly, over time, we see our farm business growing – in quality and quantity. We now have Tim and Jordan to help lead the charge. Is it hard to give up responsibilities? Mostly no. Is it hard to share in rewards? No. However, it is harder to watch some struggles and hiccups along the way, but it is not unbearable. Really.
We’ve now set in motion a plan to continue transition at a faster pace. And we aim to mentor partners and key staff who share in our vision.
One other helpful hint I can offer: as you delegate some of your farming enterprise, find a hobby or other distraction. For example, motorcycling, a farm consulting enterprise, time at the lake and traveling with friends take us away from the farm, allowing our staff to step up and keep things running smoothly.
Each farm operation must look at the human resource strengths (and weaknesses) of those people involved and build on them to help position a farm business for the future. The “answer” of who goes where is not always obvious. The right “seat on the bus” may be unveiled over time, so be open to alternatives! Stepping away from daily operations and thinking outside the box can help you see things from a different perspective.
One caution I have: don’t let hard assets (land, buildings etc.) drive your farm transition journey. The assets may be important and they may have implications, but in the end it is the people who make the farm successful. We like to see our staff and partners excited to come to work each day and strive to set the tone for this to happen.
Before settling into a farming career, I think it is good practice for youth (under 30) to try other positions outside the “home farm.” It may be in agribusiness, on another farm, or a different career path. If agriculture is their calling, it will become clear. At 21 and just out of college, I certainly did not know I would be farming full-time by age 31! I found my calling in the end and I truly believe, “If you love what you do every day, it shows.” Let’s help create the next generation of farmers who do just this.