Farmers love carrots, don’t you know? They dangle one for years in front of the next generation, so to keep the young folks guessing when they will become part-owners and have their dreams turn into reality.
“The proverbial carrot that Dad is holding out is really getting me down,” says the young dairy farmer.
“He can’t see our 10 years here as commitment. We don’t have the pride of ownership, so my spouse refuses to do any work on the house yard.”
Yes, farmers love carrots and they hate to think about letting go of their managerial roles and ownership. They wear the badge of honour “I am a farmer, I will never retire” with pride.
In a recent publication I saw a photo caption that read: “Never too old to work” over an 80-year-old sheep farmer. I am just curious if he has any successors who are frustrated by dad’s inability to transfer ownership.
My colleague Bob Tosh of MNP in Saskatoon is convinced that we advisers need to “educate farmers on how to retire and let go of the farm.”
Bob’s insight was also echoed by Don McCannell, another CAFA colleague who says “Dad’s dream is not necessarily the same dream as the next generation’s.” So you are stuck.
Pulling mucky carrots out of a water-logged garden is hard work. It works much better when conditions are drier. What conditions will get rid of “someday the farm will be yours” kind of thinking?
1. Talk to yourself. Reflect about what a great day on the farm really looks like to you. Remember what you felt like when you were taking over from your parents.
Did you forget what it felt like to have title to land and be able to negotiate the finances? Are you having an identity crisis? You are a human being, not a human doing.
What you do for a living does not define your character or who you are as a person. I suspect many farmers have a hard time letting go of their title of “boss” because they don’t know who they would be if they left the farm in the charge of the next generation.
2. Listen to your body’s aches and pains. You think you are contributing lots of labour, but the younger labour at your farm sees things differently.
Your perception is not their reality. They need to have some equity to leverage their dreams into reality, but you are stubborn about letting go, and don’t want to change the farm business.
If you have no successor, then start looking for a joint venture partner. Or take a sabbatical to “test out” a different lifestyle that is less taxing on your body. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Your health is your wealth.”
3. Decide how much longer you want to be happily married. Your spouse is waiting for some fun and adventure beyond the farm before you turn 80.
She is tired of being “the pig in the middle” of handling the successor’s impatience and your pride of power and control. She also understands that you are a workaholic and, in a loving way, she is trying to tell you what she needs for more family time and fun.
The next generation is also looking for family life, because they will not work in the same way. They have new ideas on how to work smart, but your carrot dangling is becoming annoying, and they may soon just up and leave in frustration.
4. Different is just different; it is not necessarily wrong. Different dreams from the succeeding generation are being stifled by the carrot dangling in front of them.
If they have invested 12 years of key energy and labour, and left awesome careers to come back to your business, they are more than ready to be given some shares or form of ownership. You don’t have to have this be all-or-nothing. It can be done or transitioned in stages, but get it done now.
5. “Do it now!” is the success mantra of wealthy business minds. Call your team of advisers: the accountant, the lawyer, the financial planner, the agrologist and the communications coach – to get the process moving with hard facts.
I was thrilled this summer when some farm folks updated their will that was 17 years old, bought plots and planned their funeral.
They just needed a gentle push to update their estate plans, and they are working with the Growing Forward program for consulting on their succession plan. Even the crop disaster won’t stop them from moving ahead.
6. Contact your local ag office to find out more about Growing Forward, Taking Stock or Agri-advisor funds for you to “get rid of your carrots.”
These programs will help cover some of the cost of getting your plans talked out and put on paper to execute. Younger farmers in some provinces also get a premium of help if they are under 40, so ask.
7. Crunch your numbers. Many farm folks are scared that they can’t live well off the farm. They know there are farm perks financially, but they also have neglected to build up non-farm sources of income.
They are counting on the farm to provide resources to live for the next 20 years. Financial planners can help you understand your family living cost needs and income streams.
You can also get a rough idea by looking at the last 12 months of bank or credit union statements. Fear of the future money issues is a key reason why folks don’t retire, according to Andrew Allentuck, author of “When Can I Retire?”
8. Stop treating all your kids the same way. The eldest child has put in years of sweat equity to help you create, capture and grow your wealth, yet they are supposed to wait indefinitely so that you can see what the other siblings sign up for.
Succession planning is a process and has ongoing changes to be made based on needs, expectations, tax planning and willingness to test out new scenarios.
Don’t hold the oldest successor hostage to his or her siblings. You have a business that needs to be viable, efficient and profitable. It also needs to respond to the passion and energy of those invested in it. Your successors have invested time and labour. Your farm is not a pie to be cut into four equal pieces for each child. Get over it!
Once you’ve looked at your own financial needs and emotional well-being, then you can start the discussion around “What does fairness look like to you?”
May every carrot you eat remind you there’s work to be done. Start talking about the new scenario you are building to get rid of the “proverbial carrots rotting on your farm.” PD
Froese holds a conflict resolution certificate and mediates for the Farm Debt Mediation Service. Visit www.elainefroese.com or call (866) 848-8311 . She’d also like to hear your plan to get rid of the dangling carrot on your farm; send her an email.
- Freelance Writer
- Email Elaine Froese