Clear communication eases farm transition

Many farm families deal with difficult issues by not dealing with them, which means avoiding them until somebody dies

Farm succession plans are sometimes never written because farmers are coping with false ideas and deep emotions.

But those factors can be handled with open communication and the right advisers, says farm family dynamics expert Elaine Froese.

“We’re not just dealing with numbers and balance sheets,” said the Boissevain, Man., farmer, who has long coached farm families on how to deal with thorny family intergenerational issues, like farm operations and inheritances.

“There’s a lot of emotion.

That emotion can cloud farmers’ thinking when they deal with touchy issues such as how to pass on control and ownership of farmland and farm assets while they’re still farming and after they die.

“Where is it written that you can only transfer land in a will?” said Froese, highlighting a common crisis that develops when a young farmer becomes frustrated at not appearing to gain a stake in his parents’ farm, or knowing what sort of a stake he will have if his parents die.

Land ownership and control can be gradually transferred, Froese said, and that can make it less of an issue.

“You don’t have to give or transfer gifts in one big piece…. You can do it in steps. It’s not all-or-nothing.”

Farmers can also pull back from completing succession plans if they feel uncomfortable with the professionals who are helping them design the plans. That can be fixed.

“If you’re not being well-served by whoever’s advising you, where is it written that you can’t hire a new adviser?” she said.

Another common roadblock to farm succession plans is dealing with the reality of having no heir who wants to continue the farm. Many families have children who don’t want to come back to the farm, yet the parents have trouble planning to break it up and have others farm it.

“Where is it written that your kids, who you gave birth to, have to farm?” said Froese.

Many families deal with these issues by not dealing with them. They are avoided until somebody dies.

But if families can find a way to communicate what the other people involved feel, want and expect, a lot of heartache can be removed today and avoided in the future.

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