Archive for the year 2011

When to split the business?

Posted on: September 13th, 2011 by Richard Cressman

My question for Richard

My brother and I are in our late 40s and have been farming together in a partnership for 23 years. We get along great and have created a fairly large business throughout these years. Each of us has two sons who are starting to get involved in the business. We have noticed that the cousins got along fairly well. However my oldest nephew just married and things are not quite the same anymore.

If we split the business it is going to impact profitability, but we are wondering if it may help the family relationship stuff. How do we move forward?


Richard’s Reply

First of all you need to be congratulated on being able to work successfully with your brother for over 20 years. You obviously have developed working habits that have served you very well regarding the interpersonal relationship issues which has translated into a profitable business.

Your observation about the cousins working together and the slight change in how they get along with each other since the first one got married is normal. Every time a new individual comes into what I refer to as, “the circle of influence” in a family business there are bound to be some changes. In this case the young woman brings her ideas to the marriage which frequently will have a ripple effect out through her husband. This is not necessarily good or bad, it just is what happens. The same thing probably happened when you and your brother got married as well.

If you can create two financial entities out of the one, this probably has the greatest potential to keep these four young men in the farming industry. The experience that you and your brother have gained from working together puts both of you into a great position to coach and mentor the next generation.

It’s interesting that each of you have two sons so that you will be able to virtually replicate with them the same opportunities that you had with your brother. Another plus that you have going for you is that even as you go into this possible division of the business you can model for your children how to effectively deal with potential conflicts and still remain friends. It is also important to convey to your two sons and your unmarried nephew, that if there are elements of conflict starting to develop amongst the younger generation that the blame should never be put on the young woman who has married into the family. As mentioned above, every time a new person comes into the picture the dynamic changes because others are changing and evolving as well.

Congratulations on being so astute in recognizing the family issues and being proactive in your planning.

Lack of Respect for Father

Posted on: June 19th, 2011 by Richard Cressman

My question for Richard

My brother and I want to take over the farm from our father. We cash crop about 900 acres and also milk 110 cows. I get along well with my brother. He is three years older than I am. I get along reasonably well with my father. The issue is, my brother and my dad seem to be at each other’s throats all the time. My brother does not have respect for our father. We have tried to hold family meetings but after two or three meetings they will not sit down to talk anymore. Where do I go from here?


Richard’s Reply

You have identified a power struggle between your father and your brother as a key component that needs to be resolved for you and your brother want to farm. The reasons why these two do not get along is complex. The issue of respect is difficult to define, but when you ask parents how they interpret respect from the children, it comes down to the issue of the child acknowledging that the parent has done as good job as possible in raising the children and giving them opportunities. It sounds like your brother is not acknowledging that your father has tried to do his best.

The difficult part for you in this situation is that it sounds like your father is not willing to turn control over to your brother until your dad is confident that your brother can indeed make good decisions. Your father probably interprets your brother’s lack of respect as an inability to make good business decisions. Your brother may be an excellent farmer already, but until he is willing to acknowledge that for him to farm he needs acknowledge that your dad has done the best that he could in raising his children and in building his business.

There are very few parents who would not do things differently if given the opportunity to go back and raise their children again.

Your brother has some issues that he needs to resolve. You can possibly help. For starters, ask him if he will sit down with you and write out the times he has felt cheated, or left out, or not listen to by your father. Something will come up while he is making this list that will give him a clue as to why he feels like he does towards your dad.

If you can talk to your father about this, have him list the situations where he could have paid more attention to your brother’s input. If you can get the two of them to sit down and talk about their differences after they have done some of this homework you may have discovered the key to resolving these two warriors being at each other’s throats.

Daughter-in-laws don’t work the same

Posted on: April 12th, 2011 by Richard Cressman

My question for Richard

I am the mother of a farming family and both of our sons have gotten married in the last two years. Each son manages a separate part of the business and at this point in time it is not possible to split up the business. The concern I have involves both our daughter-in-law’s. One of the young women works off farm in a well-paying job. When she comes home she continues to put in long hours working in the barn. She loves what she does. She comes from a farm background.

Our second son’s wife quit her job soon after they got married and helps around the barn when necessary. She was raised in the city and has no farming experience. Her lack of drive to help her husband is a concern and we are not certain how to handle this issue.

Each daughter-in-law receives a set salary per month. They both get the same amount.


Richard’s Reply

I am assuming that you have an expectation that wives should work in the barn in your farming business. You are correct in attempting to address the disparity between the two daughter-in-law’s before it does get out of hand. It sounds like the second son whose wife puts in a small amount of time is not concerned about his wife’s lack of interest in the farm.

The most direct way to circumvent problems is to establish an hourly pay schedule and have each daughter-in-law record the amount of time they are working. Coming up with the hourly rate may be challenging. Typically, farmers shy away from paying high wages. In your particular case it would be advantages to set up a schedule that is at the higher end of what individuals would make if they were working on a farm. By doing this you allow each young woman to feel that they are being remunerated fairly for every hour they put in.

From your comments there is opportunity for working lots of hours if each of them would choose to. If one decides she is not going to put in more than a few hours per week it is her choice and she and her husband will for go that income. On the other hand the daughter-in-law who is working in town and wants to come home and put in more hours on the farm is going to see her bank account grow significantly.

By taking the approach of a higher than average hourly rate, you eliminate the possibility of the one daughter-in-law feeling she is putting more into the business from a sacrificial standpoint than her counterpart.

Mother in the Middle

Posted on: January 29th, 2011 by Richard Cressman

There’s an old school yard game called “piggy in the middle” where two people try to keep the ball away from a third person. It still gets played across the rural countryside on many farms today, but with a twist: the person in the middle, in most cases, is Mother. Farm mothers frequently find themselves trapped “in the middle” as the go-between for family members who cannot communicate rationally with each other.

As one farm mother vividly explained, “after acting as the go-between and refereeing these sessions, I feel as if I’ve just been plastered by the slurry slinger they use to haul that brown stuff from the barnyard to the field. Being caught in the middle just plain stinks”. Mothers so often unwillingly find themselves as communication peacemakers when the warring parties cannot speak civilly and directly with each other.

One of the most common scenarios is when Mother finds herself trapped between Father and Son. The game usually starts when the Son enters the mid to late teen years. Father asks the Son to do a few jobs around the farm, but the youngster pretends he doesn’t hear or ignores his father and does something different. The next time Father asks the Son to do something the Son gets a not too gentle a reminder that the work better get done this time or else. Again, the youngster does not take his father’s commands too seriously and shrugs and walks away. After numerous episodes like this, dad really gets steamed up. Finally, after not knowing what to do, he begins to dump his frustrations on Mother pleading with her to “set that kid straight because he just won’t listen to me anymore”. Mother then has a talk with her son and tries to temper her husband’s words while still trying to convey the urgent message that Father must be listened to, and yes, the work must be done. As the years go by and these communication patterns persist, Mother finds herself being trampled deeper and deeper into this communication rut. Eventually, both husband and son are yelling at her.

Mothers can also find themselves as the go-between for children — usually the sons. This is extremely frustrating because intuitively Mother feels that she made mistakes raising the kids, and guilt sets in. Sadly, there are mothers who are still refereeing communication battles for sons who are in their 30s and even 40s. Old habits do not die easily.

What does a mother do when she finds herself caught up in this communication maze? The best solution is a straightforward approach. Sometimes it takes a real wake-up call to get warriors to change. Step aside and insist each of the disagreeing parties deal directly with each other. Yes, this has the potential to cause an explosion in the family. And yes, the fall-out can be disastrous–but you will get their attention. It is a tough call for a mother to choose between her own sanity and keeping the lid on the family pressure cooker.

Changing old ineffective communication patterns is a very difficult challenge. Occasionally, combatants can learn new communication strategies, but this is very rare. Usually the most effective way to implement change is to involve a neutral third party. This gets Mother out of the line of fire.

I have observed very successful farming operations where all it took was the involvement of a neutral individual who was able to successfully help facilitate some of the difficult conversations to get the family back on track. The secret is to take action before irreparable damage has been done to family relationships.