Decision-making part of transition process

A Saskatchewan cattle producer says farmers must give up their authority in order for their family members to take over

Arnold Balicki had raised cattle on his land north of Shellbrook, Sask., for 34 years but a heart bypass caused him to slow down during the past 10 years and face semi-retirement from farming.

Fortunately, he had been preparing for it for a while and brought his son into the business long before the semi-retirement process started.

Balicki always knew his son wanted to farm so when Leonard was old enough and had enough experience, he started including him in the decision-making process. That was part of the transition and succession process, says Balicki, and a lot of farmers don’t realize how important that step is.

“I have seen so many producers over the years that just haven’t realized that they need to give it up. They think they should be the boss or the one that makes all the decisions until they pass away and that is absolutely wrong.”

This is the best advice he can share with farmers, he says. They need to give up their authority in order for their family members, whether that be their sons or daughters or nieces or nephews, to take over.

After that, the transition is fairly smooth, he says. Those taking over the farm need to be confident that they can do it and the farmer has to be confident that they want to pass the farm down to that person.

As well, farmers need other people in their corner to make that transition smooth, people like tax lawyers and accountants who know what the farmer and his family want that transition to look like. They can help farmers separate the large undertaking of retirement into small steps, he says.

Leonard bought a house and yard about two kilometres down the road, says Balicki, so he is close by.

They farm together, even though Balicki has been limited in what he can do due to his health. He still checks cows, hauls bales, rakes hay, and drives the tractor and that takes the pressure off Leonard and lets him focus on the big stuff.

“I am a bit of a help, I guess. Leonard will probably realize that after I’m gone and say, “jeez, the old man sure helped me out here.’ It doesn’t sound like much but it does help for sure.”

It was a difficult decision, says Balicki, but the decision had to be made. “You get to a certain age and you just say to yourself, ‘no, I’m not going to be able to do this forever.’ One day you just make up your mind and you sit down with your son or your daughter and you say, ‘I think maybe it’s time I step back and you step into the role of the major decision-maker.’ ”

Balicki says it’s sometimes hard to watch things going on and know that that wasn’t the way he’d do it. Old farmers can be pretty set in their ways and they are sometimes not prepared to try new things on the farm, he adds.

Arnold and Leonard were prepared for that and that made the difference, he says, because Leonard has been progressive in his farm life and has made the farm more productive.

“He did all the research and doing things to make it better make things more productive on the farm. So that’s why it’s worked out really good.”

Another part of the transition has been arranging farm life. Balicki and his wife, Peggy, live in their own home on the farm with Leonard and his wife, Vanessa, living down the road. Arnold and Peggy’s house is about 2,000 sq. feet compared to Leonard and Vanessa’s 1,000 sq. foot house. Next year, they plan to swap houses, says Balicki.“They’ve got one little girl and they got another little one on the way for September. We just don’t need this big house and so they kind of need another bedroom or so and we’re just going to swap. It’ll be good for Peggy to have a smaller house easier for her to look after.”

While this has worked out great for his family, Balicki knows that their situation may not work with other farmers.

Retirement can be difficult when people leave their jobs and don’t have much to do anymore. Being semi-retired, Balicki does wonder if he will ever fully retire because he does not know what he would do besides farming. Right now, he still loves what he does and is healthy enough to contribute to his cattle operation. He says he is fortunate to be chair of the Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association because he gets to be influential in making decisions that impact the industry as a whole. It is not something to live on and doesn’t take up a lot of time in his life, he says, but it allows him to be active in the industry.

While he supports his son taking over the family farm, he is able to encourage young producers to do the same through the SCA.

“It’s not about the money. It’s just the love of the industry and trying to make it better for everyone else. I really push hard for the young people because it is a struggle for them to get started.”

Retirees have to replace farm work with something that provides mental stimulation and social benefits, he says. While he might step away from the SCA in the coming years, he will continue to remain involved and be there for his fellow cattlemen.

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