The Skilled Farm Successor

As with many entrepreneurial family businesses, farm families often reinvest all available resources back into their farming business. This often causes a situation where the existing owners need to rely on the farming operation (and the next generation of owners – successors) for their future income needs. A lot depends on the commitment, passion and skills of the successor for their farming career. Commitment and passion come from within, however, skills need to be developed.

Education can provide the base of knowledge on which to build the required skills. Experience can provide the successor with the means to apply their knowledge while working in their chosen field. Experience also helps develop another critical skill – that of good judgement.

When successors are asked what skills they need to acquire in order to succeed in the farming operation virtually all will respond with “management skills”. Experience is a key factor in learning those management skills. Most successors already have the operational skills to run the farming business but it’s the management skills that will determine the long term viability of the farm operation.

Good judgement is a little trickier. Good judgement flows from many varied experiences but those experiences may have been the result of poor judgement. There comes a time when successors should be allowed to exercise their decision making ability during the transition process and learn from their (hopefully minor) mistakes.

Successful farm businesses are run by farming entrepreneurs. Successors also need to have the entrepreneurial mindset that has created the existing farming operation. When I ask parents if there has ever been a time when they were not able to take funds out the farming business for personal use I usually get a look that questions my sanity. “Of course, we farm for a living” is the usual reply. When I ask the parents if the successors share that situation, the answer is usually “No, they need the money”.

Successors are often shielded from the decision making process and the risks of ownership by the existing owners who act as a buffer between the successors and the realities of farming.

In many cases, the successor is being trained as a skilled employee manager rather than a skilled owner. It’s going to be very difficult for successors to change hats overnight.

The results for the family and the family farm business will be worth the time and effort it takes to develop, encourage and put to the test the skills of the next farming generation.

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