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‘You must be this tall ...’

Mark Andrew Junkin for Progressive Dairyman Published on 29 September 2017

I do believe that the period of time to make a farm successful is when the son or daughter is between the ages of 20 and 35. That is when they have the extra energy to make a farm go. However, before making big changes, I suggest that you first set the bar: “You must be this tall to get on the ride.”

Your son or daughter must prove themselves of being credible before you make big moves.



I often see dairy farmers who sell cows and buy machinery to embark into a cash-crop enterprise simply because the sons have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning. If the son has a problem getting out of bed in the morning, why would you invest millions to feed into that son or daughter’s bad habits? What further bad habits will spiral out of control once this weakness has been rewarded?

Last year, I had a client who had a 25-year-old who loved farming – but hated dairying. He wanted to sell the cows and then cash-crop more acres. For that son, it was the right decision because he was a good mechanic and crops were his passion.

However, making that conversion immediately would have been the wrong decision. Why? The son first had to learn the self-discipline of getting out of bed every day and, more importantly, taking responsibility for results. He had to learn the self-discipline of doing jobs he didn’t want to do. He had to learn to manage his time and set hard-to-achieve goals in areas that he didn’t feel confident.

For instance, we assigned the son the job of breeding the cows. This taught him two lessons:

1. He complained that the farm didn’t have pedometers and all of the “toys” that larger dairy farms have for breeding cows. He needed to realize that to be a successful farmer, you’ll never have the ideal situation. You’ve got to take what you have and make it work. You’ve got to learn that the key of being a successful farmer is making the best of a non-ideal situation, not the other way around.


2. He had to learn the basic fact that it was his job to get the job done, and he had to do whatever it took to get results. He shrugged off the fact that the cows were not getting bred and blamed the facilities. He didn’t take ownership for results; he had developed the habit of blaming Dad or blaming something else.

This isn’t what makes a successful farmer. Before this young man took ownership of a multi-million-dollar asset, he needed to understand the concept of “the buck stops here” mentality. Milking cows might be out of his wheelhouse of passion, but it’s necessary that he learns to take ownership of problems first. He needs to do whatever it takes to get results.

This son went to a psychologist and said, “I just want you to give me a pill to let me forget about the pressures of life.” He felt sorry for himself and felt he was a victim. You might think this is a unique circumstance, but the victim mentality impacts a lot of farms and impacts the agriculture economy more than the weather.

The son blamed everyone and everything else because the cows weren’t getting bred. He then had to learn to take charge of his own destiny. For him it wasn’t easy, but it was what was necessary to create a successful farmer and man. Farming isn’t about driving tractors; it’s about overcoming seemingly impossible problems, and it takes strengthening of character to do that.

There is a big difference between being the hired man and being the boss, owning the results.

When the cows didn’t get bred for a few months, it did hit Dad’s pocketbook. But it was nothing compared to the cost of co-signing for a son not taking ownership of results. Trust me. The son needed the opportunity to sink or swim regarding breeding cows, or else he needed to quit pretending to be a farmer because if he didn’t take ownership of results, he’d never be successful at whatever he did.


I do believe that the farm needs to shift what it does to encompass the next generation’s strengths and talents. Yet I do believe that before your family makes adjustments to your farm’s business model, you first need to make sure your son or daughter is a legitimate successor.

Going back to the earlier story, the parents only went to the bank for the son’s major expansion plans after they had determined he had the character to make those plans succeed.

Your farm should first provide the environment for your son or daughter to learn all the skills and character they need to succeed at whatever they do in life. Then, only after they have shored up their weaknesses, do you talk about investing into their dreams.  end mark

Watch Mark Andrew Junkin’s livestream television show on farm management and farm succession issues every weeknight at 8 p.m. CST this winter at Agriculture Strategy

Mark Andrew Junkin