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Older generation’s willingness to change humbles young producers

Amie Howes Published on 11 September 2014

Generational differences have always seemed to lead into potential problems in any business or family relationship. The ones who understand the need to address those problems to create a viable business for the future start the transition planning process as early in the game as possible, bringing in those professionals who have built a great reputation and are trusted in the industry.

Andy and Andrea Bollinger

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Andy and Andrea Bollinger of Meadow Spring Farm, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, are among the fortunate who had parents who wanted to change the future for their children and not hold too tightly all that they worked hard to create.

A very difficult situation more than 20 years ago could have ended tragically, with a passionate 14-year-old boy having his farming future snuffed out with his parents and grandparents struggling to come to terms on a transition. Instead, both Andy and his parents used their determination and sheer willpower to look at the circumstance from a different perspective.

“It’s still hard to talk about without getting emotional about it,” Andy says. “I remember the day I overheard my parents talking about the fact that they may not get to own the farm and that Dad was going to have to drive truck to prove there was an option B. It happened right out there in the driveway, and I ran up to my room very upset.”

That was a defining moment for Andy. Many young teenagers may have hung up that dream and faced the harsh reality of not being able to own a generational family dairy farm.

“I like to think of myself as the eternal optimist. Dad was working three long days driving truck, so I assumed the responsibilities of the dairy and treated it like my own,” Andy states. “Farming was all that I ever wanted to do, so I rose to the challenge of making things work while my dad was away.”

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When thinking back to how the transition process started between Andy and his father, he remembers the consultant they used as being very informative and knowing what was going on in the industry. When numbers and prices started to be discussed, that became a little more uncomfortable, but it was just because it was new territory.

“When we find a consultant who is well-known and has the experience needed for the job, we’re willing to pay a premium for those services, knowing our goals are at the forefront of the decision-making,” Andy says. “Transition consultants can end up becoming a resource to your business down the road, like ours did.

“The transition [between my father and me] was a breeze because of the open communication. We talked about it a lot through the years,” Andy says. “It’s just something that’s always been talked about in our family.”

Of Andy’s four siblings, he was the only one who had that burning passion to take over the farm at the time. That does not mean that the other three were written out of anything, though. Should anyone become interested in becoming a partner, procedures are written on how to make that happen.

“My siblings were very happy with the structure of the plan and appreciated the approach,” Andy says.

“They would be sad if the farm were sold and they couldn’t come back to visit,” Andrea, Andy’s wife, says.

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“I give big-time credit to my parents. Most generations don’t change from how they were raised. I love their stewardship mindset,” Andy said. “I need to remember that for myself when it’s my turn one day. It doesn’t belong to us anyway, and we can’t take it with us, so why hold on to it?”

Many renovations were done through the years, and Andy was a part of those because he had spent so much time working the farm with his grandfather while his father drove truck. After completing a one-year program in Minnesota and receiving his dairy herd management degree, projects and upgrades were done at Andy’s recommendations and his father’s approval. Andy stepped up to the plate even more.

“Transition didn’t change the decision-making process for Andy; he has always approached it like it was his,” Andrea says. “Since I’ve been around, all I’ve experienced is change, which has made the farm and family what it is today.”

Andy had 30 percent partnership in the business before 2012, which was slowly gifted to him over time. “Then in 2012, the home farm was transferred to me as the owner and to the 51 percent partnership that I am in today,” Andy says. “It was a whole-team approach.”

“Tom is the visionary. We all try to get on board and keep up with him,” Andrea says, laughing. “And Andy is more calculated with the costs associated with each project.”

Andy and Andrea also touched on friends who have not had the same kind of experience with transitioning the family farm.

“We know that not all transitions go this smoothly, and we feel really blessed. We can honestly say that, at the end of this process, we have maintained all of our family relationships,” Andrea says. “We would encourage others who want to begin the transition process to seek professionals who know the industry but also share similar values.”

“We’ve been asked by a few other farmers how to start the process, who to use for outside resources and how to proceed once those are established,” Andy says.

Sometimes generational differences hinder the transition process, such as the amount of toil and sweat the past generation has put into the farm. For this family, there aren’t many generational differences because Tom and Sue Bollinger, Andy’s parents, really took the bull by the horns to ensure history wouldn’t repeat itself negatively. One difference that would be there between generations is the mental energy required to farm these days.

“Even though we’re working less physically because of technology advancement, the mental process is exhausting at times. Andy’s mind really never shuts off from the day,” Andrea says.

The challenge that they give the older generation is: “If younger potential is seen, it’s valuable that the older generation acknowledges that and helps and mentors them,” Andy says. “Besides me, my dad saw the potential in another younger person and helped him get started in a crop-spraying business which is very successful today because he took the time to invest and care.”

“This approach in thinking is so important and healthy because it makes us all work together. The line of what is whose is blurred, which may drive some crazy, but it works for us. Everyone pitches in and no one says that’s not my job or role; we just make it happen,” Andrea says. PD

Editor’s note: This article is the second in a series about farm transfer. The first article appeared in our June 12, 2014 issue.

PHOTO: Andy and Andrea Bollinger of Meadow Spring Farm have had a positive experience in transitioning the farm, thanks to the foresight of the older generation. Photo courtesy of Amie Howes.

  • Amie Howes

  • Communications Specialist
  • Center for Dairy Excellence

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