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.
At breakfast I am listening to an older farm couple complain how their son is an idiot and will likely ruin the farm. #staypositive
— Shaun Haney (@shaunhaney) March 25, 2014
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!