Earlier this spring while having a nice quiet breakfast at a hotel restaurant, I overheard a very disturbing, but common conversation.  Let me set the stage (table?) for you:

There was a couple in their 70s sitting at the table beside me chewing away at their eggs Benedict when the husband says to his wife,

“Our son is a complete idiot and is going to ruin the farm.”

The sad thing was that issue that provoked the comment from the father after further eavesdropping was that the son hauled grain to the elevator instead of meeting with the vet that morning. Exactly the kind of decision-making that will destroy the farm, right? I’m not sure about that!

Let’s keep in mind that if this couple was 70, then their son had to be around forty years old at least. At forty,  it would seem reasonable that the son would have the decision-making skills to figure out what would be more important, going to the elevator or waiting for the vet that morning.

Rather unfortunate comments, but as discussed on Twitter afterwards, this situation is not uncommon. Sometimes the son is able to WORK on the farm but MANAGING the farm is another story.  

My favorite response to my tweet was from long time RealAg reader Jeff Bennett

I thought I would start a list that young farmers (in ag, young applies to anyone under 40 years old) can refer to. A list that might help them figure out if they are actually running the farm or if their parents will ultimately always be in control till they are six feet under.

  1. You don’t have signing authority on cheques: Everyone has a farming buddy that cannot even sign a farm company cheque. This is probably the most common of any of these points in this list.
  2. You cannot meet with the banker without one of your parents present: You are so untrustworthy that a private meeting between you and the banker might actually give you insight into the farming operation. Knowledge is power and the conversations with the bank must take place with your dear old dad in attendance.
  3. You are not able to order seed, herbicides or fertilizer without proper parental consent: No better way to learn the business than learning about the purchasing of inputs. Gaining a context of costs per acre allows farmers to better understand what crops pay the bills. Additionally these types of decisions are the heart and soul of the agronomic practices on the farm.  Too bad that your 70-year-old dad doesn’t trust you with these decisions.
  4. You don’t get to see the books and your understanding of farm profitability is classified as either “not very good” or “we made some money”: It’s pretty unfair to ask your child to commit their life to the family farm and not share any financial realities, good or bad.  I am aware of a couple situations where a forty-year old farmer has no clue how much debt the farm has. Not a good situation.
  5. When you bring up farm ownership transfer every year, your parents respond with “after planting” and then “let’s wait ’til after harvest.” There will always be a way to seem too busy to have the difficult discussion of farm ownership transfer.  For many farms in North America, ownership transfers at death or at an age far later than when people in other industries are retiring.

Don’t get me wrong — many multi-generation farms work and are successful, but we all know a neighbor or a farmer friend that is nothing more than a hired man with the same last name. It might even be you that is experiencing this issue.

I was fortunate that my dad wanted me to take responsibility and experience managing the farm very early. He would observe what I was doing but would allow me to make some mistakes to learn for the future. It has made me a better business person in the long run for sure. I couldn’t imagine getting the management and financial keys at 50 for the first time having never experienced anything but the working end of a shovel.

Please share some other great indications that you are not running the farm at forty in the comment section below.  Let the commiseration begin!

9 thoughts on “5 Signs Your Parents Don’t Trust You to Manage the Farm at the Age of Forty

  1. I took over and bought part of my parents farm. My father complained that government was killing the family farm back in his politicking days. Now he has me in court the last 3 years claiming he supposedly didn’t know I was buying the farm, and shouldn’t have to leave by claiming he has “Homestead rights”. My father conveniently forgot the funds from me buying the land paid off his debt… And forgot to tell his lawyer.

    1. hmmmm I thoroughly enjoyed the article and ALL the comments. Well the fact is that most of the purchasers of farms from the 1990’s forward were expected to be in debt for 25-30 years to pay off the farm whereas the previous 6 generations only had to work an average of 6-9 years to pay off the very same farm. Control and security issues definitely are sub-servant to this theory… Interestingly because I did not join my parents church their congregational reps preferred that my father would sell the family farm (father to son since 1820) to one of their own congregation and so when my dear father insisted his hearts desire was to sell to me, they balked and one by one convinced my siblings to not support my dear fathers wishes. After 3 different church committees could not come up with a consensus and after I worked under a proving period for 3 years etc. my father was even more convinced I should take over the family dairy farm and his church committee were not. Where my parents congregation reps trumped my Dad and I; was when they convinced my Mom to no longer be willing to sign the mandated Spousal Consent required to sell the farm. Since I was the Prodigal Son… I had no option but to give up buying the cows, the quota and the equipment and focus solely on how I was going to pay market value on a farmland with residences and barns within 30 days. All of this (and quite a bit more) happened prior to 2000 and oh yes “I BOUGHT THE FARM” Prior to purchasing the farm I had my wife go to a lawyer and we did a marriage contract covering my new farm and the farm which she owned with her siblings. (She owns hers and pays for hers free and clear (from me) and I own mine and pay for mine free and clear (of her) She proceeded to her career and used up all her benefits under the Domestic Contract and after both my parents had moved out (they passed away) she contested the marriage contract and we divorced. This little av·a·ri·cious case lasted for about 8 years and included an Appeals Court trial. So in summation; way back in 2000 I was in deep debt and was out looking for a career with an 8th grade education. I loved my farm. AND if the farm that my father and I loved so much had not gone up in value by millions I will bet that my marriage would not have failed. I got screwed just as bad by the system and the legal professionals and even the judges however I still love my farm/home. Who in their right mind would pay market value twice for the same family farm 18 years apart ??? My dear father would often say to me that it is better and cheaper to learn wisdom from a “wise one” than it is to learn wisdom on your own – THE HARD WAY! For all you young guys and girls as well as well as the old pros I will simply end with the most important thing which was written by the wisest and richest person in the world (King Solomon)
      For some of you who are very familiar with The Bible you will be very familiar with how Solomon went on and on about “toiling under the sun” and “chafe in the wind” and how he was vexed by his work…I thought I knew much of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes way back when I was a young man but the one verse I did NOT remember till a few years ago when I was soul searching. Ecclesiastes 2:18 Authorized (King James) Version (AKJV) which was the only time King Solomon revealed ALL the details of all his moaning and groaning “18 Yea, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me. 19 And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool? yet shall he have rule over all my labour wherein I have laboured, and wherein I have shewed myself wise under the sun. This is also vanity.” Ironically all I can really add is that I wish my exwife had given me even the worst true prodigal son that I could sell my farm to now. I still dearly love my farm/home and it is all that I am left with after all these difficult years. Everyone else is gone however I embrace the fact that the truth sets me free and I praise Jehovah God every day for every breath in and every breath out. I urge every farmer or potential farmer to read and meditate on Ecclesiastes 2:18 King James Version BEFORE they buy or sell a farm. Oh and on a more light hearted approach Rule#1 Dad is always Right Rule #2 Even if Dad is wrong – Dad is still right!!!
      Best Regards ;

    2. Aaron; I feel sorry for both you and your father. I feel especially bad for you since I read what you wrote in your message. It sounds like you are from out west and not Ontario. Please feel free to send me your email. I can call you free of charge if you would like some help with your father. Believe me; the court cannot be trusted with what is best for your farm! In addition If your case is complicated at all chances are that the truth will NOT be come out or be enforced. I am scared for you and your father. There has got to be a better way!!!

  2. I came back to farm with my parents in 2012 at the age of 28. My parents are 67 today. I am very thankful that I am seated at the table at all of our management decisions!

  3. Parenting skills , in this case and many others is probebly the issue here, and from this sons infancy.If , you have expectations of others-you will be disappointed.You have to wonder, if the father or mother disappointed their parents to.

  4. Reasons why transfer has not occurred by age 50 from parents in their 80’s :

    1. Son / Daughter has mairtal problems;
    2. Son / Daughter has debt exceeding their equity;
    3. Son / Daughter has other business debts / losses;
    4. Son / Daughter wants to purchase at less than market value;
    5. Parents don’t want a life lease & don’t want to sign over home farm.
    6. Parents are control freaks;
    7. Parents like to watch sibling rivaly;

  5. I was a decent farm hand growing up on the family seed farm and started in my pre-teen years working on the farm and in the seed plant and worked through my 2nd year of university, where I was enrolled in the Faculty of Agriculture. Same old story – while working on the family farm I was always under the watchful eye of my father who expressed a real interest in having me take the business over, but couldn’t resist correcting every single thing, no matter how small or large the task. As many of you know, this impacts confidence, and when working with equipment every day, a certain minimal level of confidence is a requirement. Dad used to say, “when you get to be boss, we’ll do things your way, but for now I’m the boss and we do them my way”. Sound familiar? Ironically enough, he would say that shortly after saying “one day all of this will be yours’!” The farm was a long drive to anywhere, and I wasn’t provided with any opportunities for an equity position in it or decision making responsibilities. Being a progressive 20-something when I made this decision, I came to the conclusion that this wasn’t going to work, so during my 3rd summer position while at university I worked with a large company’s R&D program off-farm, and during the 4th year I worked in that same company in their seed production department. I never looked back and for the past number of years I’ve managed a seed production program consisting of hundreds of thousands of bagged units and thousands of tonnes of bulk products for a major ag company. I now get back to the family farm often to visit and to take my family to grandma and grandpa’s and my mom and dad have off-loaded their seed cleaning plant and their seed retail business. They still farm an average sized acre base and they are upbeat, positive people but I think it really weighs on them that they have little support with the actual farming. We have a large vegetable garden and we have some fruit trees on one of the pieces, so we get there often to visit and work the garden, but I’m sure that isn’t the same. I don’t regret not going back and running the family farm. It just wasn’t in the cards for my dad and I. For the first time in my life, while planning out a new area of the garden for an enlarged fruit tree orchard and the rows of vegetables we are going to be planting this spring, he turned to me and said, “this job only requires one boss, so you tell me what to do and that’s how we’ll do it”. I almost fell out of the truck! It’s a small gesture, but it meant a lot to me. For all the fathers out there who genuinely want their kids to have the opportunity to stay on the farm and enjoy the way of life the family has built over the years, I can’t tell you how important it is to empower your children who show an interest. Each child is different, and each will require a different level of supervision, encouragement, and coaching, but fostering a strong relationship and allowing participation in the business of farming may very well put them in good stead if they do try to take on the management of the farm one day – and it will certainly enhance the possibility that they will stay home and give it a try.

  6. I totally understand this. My parents won’t let me take over the farm because they made mistakes with my older brother and then decided to have a 22 year old kid come in and attempt to run the farm into the ground. I’m trying to get beef cattle established with my money and parents are trying to hijack that. Working with a farm counselor but I’m not sure if that’s going to work.

Leave a Reply


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.