Your Farm’s Next Generation: How and When to Involve Your Children

Kathy A. Daily
Aug 11, 2021
Planting season is coming to a close on the farm and a new crop of graduates is being harvested at the local high school.

For some, college was decided long ago but for others they may be planning to stick around the farm and help out the family. While that might seem like a good idea given the current farm economy, you might want to give that plan a little more thought.

The tender age of eighteen is too young to know what you really want to do with your life, and although college isn’t for everyone, most young adults need the additional time to grow up and decide what they want to do. Education after high school doesn’t necessarily mean college, trade schools are just as valuable and are in high demand.

Some of the most successful farm families I know have a family rule that their children cannot join the family farm after high school. They must first attend college and then get a job for a minimum of 2 to 4 years, before they are allowed to join the family farm. This allows them to grow up off the farm, learn how to support themselves without the farm carrying them. It also gives them a good opportunity to learn something of value that they can bring back to the farm.

Bringing your children into the family farm can be even more difficult if you are partners with other family members who have children who want to join the farm as well. How do you decide to gets to join? I’ve seen some partnerships dissolve at this point because they couldn’t agree on how to bring in the next generation. The partnerships dissolved and formed new partnerships with their children. Its’ good to discuss adding additional family members early in the partnership and make it part of the agreement so there are no surprises when kids graduate from school.

Bringing the next generation onto the farm works well when it’s done right, but everyone needs to understand upfront that you are operating a business and like any business you need the best person for the job.

Be sure that you match the person’s talent to the skill set needed for the job, and don’t just fill a tractor seat. I read an article recently where one family actually interviews family members wanting to join the farm. The interviews are conducted by senior members of the operation in “what if” scenarios. This concept seems a bit extreme, but it is a good way to let your kids know that joining the family farm isn’t a cake walk and they will be expected to make tough decisions that could make or break the farm.

My husband and I raised two sons, who were quite different from one another. Our oldest son enjoyed literature, history, computers, marketing and business concepts. Our youngest son was bored to death in the classroom and couldn’t wait to get his hands on something. There are jobs for both of my sons on a farm, but they are not interchangeable.

For the sake of your family and your business, take the time to make sure everyone is making the right decision for the future.

Kathy Daily is the Managing Director of First Financial Bank’s Farm and Ranch Division. Mrs. Daily has been an agricultural lender for over 25 years.

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