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There are no set ‘how-to’ books for farm transitions

Liz Griffith for Progressive Dairy Published on 03 September 2021

Many farms inquire if there is an easy how-to book or checklist that will guarantee a successful family farm transition. The answer is: no. How about an easy way you can sit down in an afternoon and complete your transition plan?

There’s no book on that either. The fact is: The odds are against any family farm successfully transitioning to the next generation. So successfully transitioning a family farm is something of which to be proud.

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Every farm is different, and every family is unique. Every family farm has a unique history, culture, family dynamic and business. Every farm family moves at a different pace. What is a roadblock to one farm is a speed bump for another. In short, there is no playbook, checklist or how-to manual for family farm transitions. However, there are some essential mindsets I would like to share to help you get off to a solid start.

Unlike growing a crop or milking cows, there are no do-overs or next season in family business transitions. Either it works, or it doesn’t work. However, if you embrace the following mindsets, you will get off to a great start.

  • Start early. Often succession planning is put on the back burner for a variety of reasons, but I suspect the main reason is: Most people do not like to think about their mortality. As entrepreneurs, we do not like to think of someone else overseeing what we created. What if they are not successful? It is easy to hang on too long and not start the process. However, starting the process early gives it the best possible chance of success because you won’t be rushing it.

  • Transition planning is a process, not an event. Just like growing a crop, building a productive herd or creating a great-tasting soup, it takes time. Who would throw all the ingredients of a great stew into a pot and expect instant results? No one. Transition planning takes time, and sometimes the best solution is time. For example, you may have an early idea of who should take over the role of CEO of the farm, but time may prove your initial pick was not the best choice. Time will bear this out. It is another reason why you need to start early. You may have to retrace your steps to get it right.

  • Communicate and deal with emotional issues before the emotions become the issue. There are always emotional discussions when talking about something so dear to our hearts. Just because someone disagrees with something we say does not necessarily make them bad, nor indicate they have evil intentions. It often just means they disagree. The key is to have difficult conversations without becoming disagreeable. To not be so set in our ways that we cannot see the other person’s point of view. Early in the process, solicit opinions and feedback from others, even if you are afraid of the answers. Would you rather know what people are thinking early in the process or do nothing and hope it doesn’t boil over later?

Finally, do not get discouraged. Just keep moving forward. It is easy to tackle this large project and get discouraged at the first bump in the road. Expect the bumps to come and be happy when they do because bumps mean you are still moving. Have you ever hit a speed bump sitting still? Goal achievement studies have shown that little, incremental and consistent progress has better outcomes than large singular events. So break the process down into small bites. Once you start the project, work on it consistently each month so you do not lose traction. The stakes are too high for you, your family and all you have worked for. Get it right, and your greatest legacy could be beating the odds and passing on a successful family farm. Now that is something of which everyone can be proud.  end mark

Liz Griffith
  • Liz Griffith

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