Young farmers frequently ask me: “Elaine, how do we get the conversation about changes on the farm started?”
There is a longing look in their eyes, sometimes tears as they seek out help to talk to their parents about key issues the farm team know they need to address. Perhaps the younger generation is not speaking out due to a sense of respect for their parents. This could be partly true. I see many well-educated thirty–something skilled young farmers who are super frustrated that their dreams are not turning into profitable executed goals.
So where do we start?
1. Show up as adults. You are young, but skilled. Know that your parents are having sleepless nights rolling over scenarios in their heads that they just can’t sort out. Behave well as responsible adults. Choose to attack the issues, not the person delivering the ideas for change.
2. Understand that transition is a journey, like putting a large puzzle together with many pieces. Patience is a virtue here. If you get ticked at your slow Internet connection, you are likely not happy with pace of change on your farm either. There are many vital plans to address: lifestyle, incomestreams, debt servicing, farm business viability, fairness to non-farm heirs, etc. Don’t let the anxiety of not knowing the plan or your sense of overwhelm keep you stuck. How is your attitude about doing the work required to meet with several different kinds of professionals? Are you willing to drive the process? Are you gracious and positive?
3. Spend some quiet time with yourself. Yes, in silence, thinking. Reflect deeply on what you really want to accomplish with your life, and with your conversations. What is your intent? If you intend to be a bully, be manipulative, be dramatic or threatening, the conversations for change are not going to work out well. When you get clear about your expectations, then you are ready to start communicating them to your spouse and to your far team. Text to 1-855- 969-5300 and include “whatIwant” (yes, as one word) in the message line to receive a tool to help you do some hardcore reflecting.
4. Engage your spouse/or partner to see what they want. Make sure you listen and paraphrase back to them what you think you heard them say. Many farm founders are avoiding the transition conversation because as a couple they are not agreed on what they can live with together. Mom and Dad may be fighting or tense with goals that just don’t align for the same purpose.
For instance, Dad is happy to “keep being the hired man (employee)” but Mom is bent on travelling lots and leaving the main yard’s action. She wants a quieter pace, and Dad is energized to keep showing up at the shop at 8. The incidence of “grey” divorce is increasing. Divorce will really wreck havoc, so pay attention to goals and dreams that are being squished.
5. Brush up on your conflict resolution skills. Embrace courageous conversations as a business risk management tool. You can find my webinars on “Better Family Fights” at www.agri-webinar.com. Use eye contact. Ask permission with the other person to make sure it is a good time to talk. Write out your key points on paper or notes in your phone if you think you need a script to stay on track. Make requests, say “may I make a request, I have some important things to discuss, and I wonder when is a good time for you, on Tuesday after lunch?” Share your intent, your big “why”, this is so important for you to get out in the open.
6. Know that you are not alone. Over 120,000 farms need to transition in Canada. The average age of a farmer in Canada is 54. I know a lot who are 66, 75, and 83 who are still avoiding starting the conversation about changes in management and ownership. I call this the tsunami of agriculture. Now that you know that you are not the only one on the prairies, use this insight to bolster your courage and resolve to start asking the rest of your farm team for the changes you and your family need. You are getting older every day. At age 40 you will no longer qualify for young farmer programs and loan rebates. At age 40 you will also feel lots of resentment if you have not had a plan or access path to build some of your own equity.
7. Visit your lender of choice. Before you start talking about opportunities for equity or ownership you have to be comfortable with debt, and have the ability to service it. Know what your current net worth is, and how much debt you can service. It gives you data to talk to your parents about the reality of how much debt you are able to manage. It also shines a light on your living costs, which are way more than $30,000 per year. Do you know what you need to keep the family living equation happy? Do you want debt?
8. Build your tribe of support. This might be other young farmers who have succeeded with their transition experience. They can be a huge emotional support to you. Read every blog that I have written to encourage you, and give you practical skills to ask for what you and your family needs now.
You can do this. Get going now.