Transition Planning Forward takes changes to next steps

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Or so the saying goes. There will be a great many of us that prefer the status quo. Change typically brings the unknown.

We’ve not done that before. Or the other way of saying it … this is the way we’ve always done it.

Some people consciously or unconsciously associate risk with change, which is true because there are elements of risk associated with change and the more profound the change, the greater the likelihood of risk.

Risk is inevitable, especially on a farm. What’s important is how it’s managed.

Back to change. Behold the turtle. We’re not getting far if we don’t stick our necks out.

What if it feels as if the change is being forced upon us? Or if someone in a business or family is pushing for change? Both can compound feelings of uneasiness with the changes that will be happening. If you think this all sounds like aspects of transition (succession), you are correct.

For transition to occur, change is required. Some of the changes associated with transition will be profound and finite. For example, changes in ownership such as land titles or share ownership in a farm corporation.

Changes in management are profound when total control in management is transitioned to the next generation. The process, timelines and expectations can often become challenging with a transition in management.

Back to the turtle. Challenging situations do not get resolved by retracting into shells. This analogy applies to both the exiting and next generations, albeit much more common with the exiting generation. There are instances of the next generation not being able to, or willing to, commit to farming as their career choice. This can leave parents in difficult positions.

I’m going to take this discussion to another aspect of transition planning.

Transition Planning Forward

Is it fair to say that the rate of change is greater now than ever before? There may have been periods where change associated with agriculture has been as, or more, important than it is in the present.

I have a difficult time, though, in thinking there will have been a time where the rate of change has equalled what farmers are dealing with today. And will be dealing with going forward. This will continue to have significant impacts on farms in transition, whenever that happens on any given farm. In other words, it’s not going to get any easier. It’s going become even more challenging.

Transition planning is about the future of individuals, of families and of farm businesses. Transition planning forward is thinking of the farm, the families and the individuals as they exist today… and as they contemplate transition today. But they are also working to understand what planning will require in the future. The next, next generation.

I accept that many will think this is akin to borrowing trouble. I happen to think it is some of the most beneficial planning that can be done.

I fully understand that there’s uncertainty in trying to plan for next year let alone 20 or 30 years into the future. Transition planning forward becomes quite conceptual but any concepts gleaned from the exercise will help create context for the current transition discussions underway and importantly, for what needs to happen between the current transition and the next transition.

Here is a simple activity. Write down what the current farm in transition looked like 20 years ago. How large? How many families or family members were involved? Any cousins? How much capital was required? How much debt existed?

Compare the information to what that looks like today and then, extrapolate what that might look like 20 years into the future. And try to factor in a rate of change discussion.

This activity is part of transition planning forward. There will be forks in the road along the way. The long-term goal of transition planning forward is to ensure that there continues to be a road ahead and that we don’t come to a dead end when we’re dealing with the “forward” transition.

Planning helps. But planning alone is not enough. Plans need to be implemented, reviewed and adjusted as those forks in the road appear.

The effective implementation of a plan can be pivotal. It requires rigour to ensure things get done. It’s important and sometimes critical to ensure the right things are getting done, not just doing things right.Sometimes the right things challenge the status quo and require change. How far do you have your neck stuck out?

Terry Betker, PAg, is a farm management consultant based in Winnipeg. He can be reached at 204-782-8200 or terry.betker@backswath.com.

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