Dr. Val Farmer
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Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Tough Questions About Family Farming

May 7, 2007

These are some tough questions you need to ask before getting involved in an intergenerational farm.

Compatibility with your son: Did you know that parents pass farms to male children 95 percent of the time? It is important to understand how well fathers and sons get along.

- Motives. Does your son have a natural love and affinity for farming? Has he been away from the farm long enough so that his motivation to farm is based on his own genuine choice and not just the path of least resistance?

Or is his interest in farming based on not having found his niche anywhere else? Does your desire to pass on the farm as a family heritage cause his decision to be guilt driven rather than out of a genuine love for farming with all the risks and lifestyle challenges it has?

- Preparation. Does your son like and take pride in fulfilling farm responsibilities? Is he dependable? How is his work ethic? Does he enjoy learning new things? Does he have a knack for problem-solving and showing good judgment in his work? Has he learned to take a management perspective?

Has he developed skills and interests to give him an attractive alternative to farming if it becomes necessary? Can these skills be used to supplement the farm income if needed? Do these skills complement your own skills and enable him to make valuable and unique contributions to the farming operation? Is he willing to learn complementary skills and take on real responsibility?

How well does he understand and manage his own money? Does he have a grasp of the amount of money involved in farming and the risks involved?

- Attitude. How well does he handle stress? Can he handle the stress of a down year and making tough financial decisions? Does he view farming with relative optimism and feel confident about the prospects for the future?

Is he easy to get along with? Can he handle criticism and learn from mistakes without becoming defensive? Do you clash? Does he have a problem with temper? Has he been away from the farm long enough so you have an adult/adult relationship without his immaturity clouding the relationship?

The ease and cooperation in working together will mean a lot to you if he treats you with respect and dignity, and values your experience and wisdom even though he may have his own ideas to contribute. Does he communicate his ideas in a way that invites give-and-take or is he rigid and stubborn in thinking his way is the only way? Does he treat his mother with respect?

- Social readiness. If he is single, does he live on his own and show responsibility for managing his personal life? Is he developing a rounded personality with his own social network, personal management skills and good judgment? Has he matured enough so that his social life doesn’t take priority over his farming responsibilities?

If he is married, how flexible and accepting will his wife be in making the adjustments to farming and rural life? How rigid or willful will she be in terms of fitting in to a family operation?

If he has brothers who might be potential farming partners someday, how well do they get along? Are they too competitive? How well do they work together? How well do they match up in terms of goals, complementary skills and work styles?

- Economics: Can the farm provide the income needed for every family in the business? Is there more than enough work to keep everybody busy?

Can your son be satisfied with building equity over time and to take a conservative approach to personal lifestyle and rewards? Can he take a long term perspective on getting a return on work and financial investments and make the necessary sacrifices? If he is married, does his wife understand farm income issues and will she cooperate with long-term goals?

Concerns about the parents:

- Respect: Do your parents value personal and social opportunities outside of farming? Will they understand and accept your need to be an individual and have interests and goals that go beyond farming? Do they intrude into your social life and lifestyle? Do they understand boundaries or will they try to meddle or control you?

If you are married, do you foresee any relationships problems between your wife and your mother or between your wife and your father? Will there be respect for your marriage and your own family agenda and priorities?

- Control: Can your father delegate work without micro-managing the process? Is he critical and a perfectionist when there are mistakes and problems? Are your parents willing to share management and to be open to new ideas? Will your parents support growth and expansion to fit your family goals?

- Trust: Do you trust your parents word? Are they clear about whom potential partners might be? Do you trust your parents to be fair in their estate plans and committed to the farm being kept viable as a business? Are they willing to put their commitments in writing? Do they see retirement or semi-retirement as a goal and can step away from management in their own best interest - and yours?

See any red flags? Failing this test might save you a real and quite painful failure later.