Outside assistance can help son who is in over his head

Q: When my husband died three years ago the least of my problems at the time seemed to be the farm.

Our youngest son was pegged to take it over. Charlie had worked it out so that all four of our children got their fair share of the estate while maintaining the integrity of the overall farming orientation. The farm was intact and ready for our son to assume responsibilities for it.

That should have been OK. Our son and his dad had worked together for years and while Dad was alive, the boy ran our livestock pretty much on his own. I thought it was only natural that he would assume control of the farm and that he would do a good job. But I was wrong.

Our boy is struggling with farm management. The big items, like seeding, spraying, harvesting and calving, are not going well, and our debt management seems to be out of control.

Charlie was always a man of his word. Our farm had a fine reputation with all of our creditors and it seemed that we could handle just about any contingency. Not so now.

Bills are not being paid, we have had nothing but breakdowns in both harvest and seeding, and I am not too sure that our bottom line is as lucrative as it used to be.

I am worried about the farm and I am suspicious about our son’s management of it. What do you suggest that I do?

A: I think that in today’s world we see a tendency for farms to try following a corporate model to run their affairs. It is fair to say that as complex and challenging as farming has ever been, it has been made even more complex by using that corporate model.

The model is difficult. But that same model that has been challenging you and your family has also come up with some principles that might help all of you work your way through your present difficulties.

I am thinking here of the Peter Principle, which is the tendency in an organization to promote its people to levels of incompetence. Here is an example of how it might work. In a shop built to employ welders, one welder might very well be very adept at what he is doing. It is hard not to notice the great work he does. As a result the company promotes him from being a welder to becoming a supervisor of welders. The problem is that he is a welder, not a manager, and the chances are very good that he will not be as successful at managing as he was at welding. He fails, and of course the company is also at risk of failing.

In a way this is what has happened to your son. He was doing great in animal husbandry and he was a notable helper when your husband was alive but animal husbandry and employee compliance are not necessarily great skills for overall farm management.

The more your son reaches out for the transition to his new set of responsibilities the greater are the odds that he will fail. It is the Peter Principle in action, and with it in full flight your farm is at risk of failing.

Your way around the Peter Principle is to find the expertise you need to run the farm and either help your son bone up on some appropriate education to get those skills or contract outside experts.

One of the most successful farmers I have met does absolutely no bookkeeping. He throws his bills/receipts, bank statements and uncashed cheques at his accountant and then goes about what he enjoys — working his farm equipment. If you can help your son develop some of those skills he needs to run the farm while contracting out other skills that he is not likely to get, the odds are pretty good that he will settle the farm down and start relishing some success.

It depends only on the extent to which your boy is being open and honest with all of you and the determination you have to see his sails set in the right direction.

Jacklin Andrews is a family counsellor from Saskatchewan. Contact: jandrews@producer.com.

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