OYF nominees share tips on succession

Allister, left, and Lauchie MacEachern work in their Debert, N. S., dairy barn.  | Nick Pearce photo

PENTICTON, B.C. — Careful planning, honest conversations, trust and respect are keys to successful generational farm transfers.

In interviews during the Outstanding Young Farmer national conference in Penticton Nov. 30-Dec. 3, provincial nominees shared these tips from their farms’ succession plans.

Lauchie and Jolene MacEachern of Folly River dairy farm at Debert, N.S., who gradually took over the farm from a couple seeking to retire, said there are no cookie-cutter solutions because each farm is unique.

“It was just as stressful for us to come into this arrangement and trust that we were putting seven years in career development that might not work out,” said Jolene.

“We really had to trust each other and respect each other.”

The process included conversations about the what-ifs of how injury, death or illness would affect the succession plan.

Experts in accounting, law and banking were at the table from the beginning to avoid any surprises, they said.

For the future, they are structuring the business so that if none of their three children have an interest, the farm could be passed along to someone else just as it was offered to them.

As Alberta OYF nominees Marc and Hinke Therrien considered taking over Hinke’s family’s operation, there were siblings to consider, the parents’ divorce, a barn fire and Marc’s non-farming background.

Hinke was born in the Netherlands and her family settled in Alberta, first running a dairy and later a turkey operation.

Marc was asked to work in the industry first to prepare him for the business, which today operates at Redwater.

“It was good for me because I had to ask myself, is this just a dream or a potential career,” he said.

“Working for someone different than her family and learning the ropes and getting the training required to do the job was a critical step in our success story,” said Marc.

They also enlisted the help of accountants, lawyers, a third party mediator and Marc’s father, a financial planner, to sort it out. It took more than a year to create a plan where they bought the farm and paid back Hinke’s parent through a preferred shares arrangement.

“At the end of the day, everything worked out and we are quite happy,” said Marc, who noted it was expensive but successful because they were able to bridge gaps and establish a business plan that everybody could live with.

“Do what you say you’re going to do and follow though with it,” said Marc.

Hinke’s advice is to start succession planning early, noting their plans are in place in case one or more of their three children wishes to farm in future.

Both say it would have been impossible for them to get into the business without family support.

“They are one of the main reasons I’m standing here to day,” said Marc.

The MacEacherns cited immigration’s role in their success.

“Almost everyone who has influenced our ability to be here (at OYF) today has been an immigrant family,” said Jolene, citing government policies that brought immigrants to Canada in past decades.

“We feel that we should keep welcoming people. New people bring new ideas and that’s how we get better. If we shut that down, we’re just kind of insulating ourselves from progress,” she said.

They noted how neighbouring farms rely on these communities of people to operate.

“It’s important to agriculture to bring skills sets you need no matter where those people come from, whether Canada or other countries,” said Jolene.

The MacEacherns described a positive agricultural environment in Nova Scotia, where stable farmland prices have allowed many young farmers to start small-scale operations.

Nova Scotia is the only province in Canada that recorded an increase in farmers in the last five years, said Jolene.

Contact karen.morrison@producer.com

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