A Project Presented to The Faculty of Agricultural Economics and Business of The University of Guelph
By Richard J. Cressman | July, 2000
The Progression of Farm Succession
Thirty Years of Changes from 1970 to 2000
The Entrepreneurial Spirit of Farmers
Why Are These Succession Issues More of a Concern Today than in the Past?
Why Spend So Much Time Examining Land Ownership?
Why Is This New Succession Paradigm Facing Farmers Today?
The Lily Pond Phenomena
What is the Reality Facing Farm Families Today?
Some Possible Family Scenarios
Are Farm Families Different from Their Urban Cousins?
Assessment of Succession Planning Programs
Family Business Centers
Family Business Center Model in the Farm Community?
Family Firm Institute Inc.
Farm Succession Programs in the USA
Farm Succession Programs in Canada
Research in the Field of Succession Planning Services
Services for Farm Families
Service Provider Skill Sets
The Future of Succession Work
Providing Services for Farm Families
Creating Education Programs
Abstract — top
This project is an investigation of the issues surrounding Farm Family Succession as we enter the 21 st century. The concept of inheritance through land ownership is explored as to how it has impacted both the culture and traditions of farm families. The present interest in farm succession is due partly to the large group of farmers who began their careers approximately 15-35 years ago.
The concept of using Family Business Centers to help facilitate succession is explored in an agricultural context.
Succession planning includes traditional estate planning along with addressing the issues of interpersonal human dynamics. This paper is an overview of how the present cohort of farmers and their advisers can bring the future generation of farmers into the agricultural industry.
Acknowledgments — top
They are numerous individuals whose contribution to this project is much appreciated. Katherine Biondi, University of Guelph; Peter Coughler, interim director of the Center for Farm Family Succession, Professor Elliott Currie, University of Guelph; Terry Good, sales manager of Alpine Plant Foods; Dr. John Fast, director of The Center for Family Business, Conrad Grebel College; Karolynn Hunsberger, agriculture mediation for KPMG; and Grant Robinson FCA, Robinson and Company.
Another group of persons who are far too numerous to mention individually are the hundreds of farmers the author has had the opportunity to interact with over a period of many years. It is from observing this group of individuals working on their farms with their famillies that has provided the backdrop for this paper.
Introduction — top
Farm family succession (farm transfer) has an ongoing process since the Biblical times of Abraham and Isaac. Living in the 21st century we may question the relevance of comparing a Biblical farm family situation to the events facing a farm family today. Throughout this paper a common theme will show the connection as to how the past creates the present and can impact the future.
The farmers who are preparing to transfer their farmers to the next generation between now and 2025 began their farming careers between 1965 and 1985. This cohort of farmers belong to a group in society called the baby boomers. The baby boom generation has been a very instrumental group in dictating how society has evolved over the past 55 years. The baby boomers first place of influence was on the baby food industry. When they got to school, they had an impact on the education system. When they started to buy their own homes and set up their own businesses they had an impact on real values. Even though the percentage of the population who are farmers is very low, the baby boomers made their presence felt on the agricultural scene as well.
When the baby boomers took over the farms from their parents the farm transfer process was talked about in terms of estate planning. The term frequently used today is succession planning. The term succession planning has evolved to include what is referred to as “human dynamics”. Human dynamics as they are talked about throughout this paper will refer to the interactions that take place within the farm family as they live and work together. In some circles human dynamics may be referred to as the “touchy, feely stuff” that commonly was avoided in the past. Society appears to be coming much more open and accepting in allowing discussions about how people feel and respond to events. This openness appears to be opening the door for parents to talk openly with the children and is encouraging siblings to become better communicators.
The financial services industry is a significant stakeholder because they have financed the present capital asset values that are part of agriculture today. The success of the family farm is of paramount importance for continued profitability in the financial services sector.
Although there is a considerable body of knowledge in the area of succession planning, this paper is more oriented to the experiences and observations of the author. The author along with a sibling took over the family farm in 1976. They farmed together until 1990 when the farming partnership was disbanded. The author took over another family business – a seed agency for Pioneer Hi-Bred Ltd. and works directly with over 200 farm families. The background for this paper stems from personal experience, conversations with many farmers, personal interviews with individuals in both the academic and service sector.
To set the stage for the discussion in this paper, land ownership will be examined from a historical perspective. The events that have transpired in the farming community over the past 30 years will be dissected in more detail to provide a more thorough understanding of why the succession issue is getting more attention today than previous generations have given it. Another thing that will be examined is the entrepreneurial spirit that is part of family businesses. The differences between the farm family and the urban family business will also be mixed into the discussion. The final part of the discussion will center around what resources are available to help facilitate the farm family transition from one generation to the next. The intention of this paper is not to provide answers, but rather to stimulate more thought and thinking on this topic of farm family succession.
The Progression of Farm Succession — top
To get a grasp of the succession planning issues that are currently being faced in the agriculture community, it is helpful to go back in time and review the procession of events throughout the history of agriculture that have led us to the present moment.
A trip back into antiquity to the birthplace of our agrarian forefathers is a good starting point. The first societies were nomadic in nature because humans had to follow their food supply. As the ability to grow crops began to evolve, it became necessary to congregate in one area. The only time people moved was when the soil became depleted or neighboring warrior bands pillaged the settlements.
The feudal system of land ownership began to emerge. The king granted land ownership to his lords. The lords in turn had many people working for them. This system of land ownership took thousands of years to evolve and was still in existence in Europe in the early 1800s.
From the feudal system of land ownership came the concept of inheritance. Sons were very important to ensure the family name continued. The eldest son was a prized possession because they frequently received the largest portion of the family assets — in Biblical times this was called the birthright.
Christopher Columbus’ expeditions to North America changed the course of world events: the concept of agricultural land ownership would also dramatically change. The forefathers of North American agriculture began to emigrate from Europe to North America in the mid 1600′s. Some came for religious freedom, some came looking for the opportunity to own their own land and work for themselves — they all brought their children. The individuals who immigrated possessed an entrepreneurial spirit — they were in search of excitement and opportunity. Land was plentiful. It was not until the early 1900s that the majority of the productive land in North America was settled.
Prior to World War II, farming was a way of life for a large percentage of the population. Farming was still hard work. Technology was making slow inroads as tractors began to replace horses, significantly increasing one person’s output . The advent of World War II increased the demand for food and provided some of the best returns farmers had ever experienced. Once the war had ended, the technology that fuelled the allies war machine was directed towards agriculture. Nitrogen fertilizer, chemicals, bigger and more efficient equipment, coupled with the recent development of hybridized seed, and electricity, allowed farmers to dramatically increase their output. The price of farmland began to significantly increase as well.
A wave of technology was beginning to gain momentum as it swept through agriculture. Milking parlors allowed dairy farmers to milk more cows per person, tractors were getting bigger which allowed cash croppers to crop more acres, and hog and poultry farmers were able to increase output due to technologies such as liquid manure and more intense livestock confinement.
As the profit margins in farming rose, agricultural colleges turned out more would be farmers than ever. The front end of the baby-boom generation started to take over their parents farmer in the mid-to-late 1960s. This is the cohort of farmers who are now beginning to look at bringing their children into the farm. The interest in succession planning today is being influenced by demographics — specifically the baby boom generation.
Thirty Years of Changes in Ontario Agriculture from 1970 to 2000 — top
From a historical perspective, this paper has briefly examined the ownership of land since the beginning of the agrarian age. The events of the last three decades (1970-2000) need to the examined more closely because it is in this time frame that the present generation of farmers have developed their view of reality. As previously mentioned, it is the baby boom generation who have changed the face of agriculture. Because of their sheer numbers and their desire to farm they have bid farm assets to all-time highs. Traditionally it has been possible to pay for a farm with the proceeds generated from the farming operation. The baby boomers have created a scenario (at least in most parts of Ontario) where it is almost impossible to make mortgage payments with income drawn from the farm. The two income farm family has also put pressure on land values because there is more readily available cash on some farms due to the second income. There are very few acres of prime agricultural land available where it will not be necessary to have some type of outside source of income to make the mortgage payments. The present generation of farmers have taken their profits and reinvested them back into their businesses and in the process have driven up asset values. These high asset values, while desirable in the eyes of the present generation, are also going to cause the succession issues to be more complicated and challenging than at any point in modern history.
Another factor that dramatically influenced the last 30 years is the Soviet Union’s wheat shortage in the early 1970s. They came to North America looking for wheat supplies and in the process drove up the price of grains and protein.
North American farmers responded with more output. Cash prices for corn, soybeans and grains jumped very quickly between 1972 and 1974. For example, a bushel of corn in Ontario in August of 1972 was $1.39. Twelve months later this bushel was worth $3.15. In August of 1974 the price jumped again to $4.40. A $3.00 per bushel increase in the price of corn in the space of 24 months made it almost impossible for farmers to comprehend their good fortune. Their education at the Agricultural college had trained them to become more efficient managers — but this good fortune of rapidly escalating commodity prices was too good to be true. There was a perception that the world would continue to beat a path to North America for food.
Yields were also continuing to move upward, but somewhat slower. In 1971 the average corn and soybean crop yield was 81 and 28 bushels per acre respectively. In 1999, corn yielded 128 bushels per acre and soybeans yielded 40 bushels per acre. In 1971, there were 19,363 dairy farmers in Ontario who shipped 21 million hectoliters of milk. By 1999 this number had dropped to 6,600 producers, but they had increased production approximately 25% to 25.2 million hectoliters.
In the hog industry there were 31,214 producers in 1971 who shipped a total of 3,960,421 hogs. There were only 5,099 hog producers in 1999 shipping 4,644,884 hogs — almost a 20% increase.
The farm machinery industry has also changed. In 1971 a 100 horsepower tractor could be purchased for approximately $14,000 depending upon the number of options. The equivalent tractor in 1999 cost approximately $100,000.
The price of farmland has also spiraled upwards. The acre of land that could be purchased for $800 in 1971 was selling for over $5000 per acre in 1999. It is noteworthy that both machinery costs and land costs have increased approximately 600% in the past three decades.
The trend is very straightforward: There are fewer farmers farming today than there were in 1970 and more food is being produced. Michael Hunter, owner of the crop consulting company Bruce Agvise, brings the situation facing Ontario farmers into very sharp focus. He said to make a living in cash cropping today, would take between 4000 and 5000 acres compared to needing half of those acres in 1980 and probably a third of those acres in 1970. The reason for the dramatic increase in the number of acres needed is the synergistic relationship between farm machinery and land costs. As farmers purchase bigger machinery, there is a need to work more acres to justify the cost which then causes them to increase their bid price per acre to secure more land to make payments on the bigger equipment. It is the cat chasing its own tail syndrome.
The Entrepreneurial Spirit of Farmers — top
The entrepreneurial spirit of farmers was mentioned earlier and must be further examined from a historical perspective to further help us understand the implications of the modern-day succession issues facing today’s farmers. As already mentioned, virtually all the ancestors of North American farmers emigrated from Europe. As these families established themselves in America, there was always the opportunity to secure new land at a reasonable price. If more than one son wanted to farm, there was that familiar phrase, “go west-young-man-go-west” where land was cheaper and more plentiful. This cultural paradigm brought most of North America’s arable acres into crop production by 1900.
Once the arable land had been settled, the aspiring or expansion minded farmer was forced to purchase an existing farm to make his dream a reality. The price of farmland and assets have continued to appreciate throughout the modern era of agriculture. Modern agriculture has operated within an interesting paradigm, if the dream was big enough, and the desire was strong enough, and it was possible to secure credit either privately or through public lending institutions, you could make your dream come true by owning your own farm.
Two fundamental truths must be understood about the entrepreneurial individual. The first truth is they thrive on challenges — tell a farmer something can’t be done and they will prove you are wrong. The second truth is that history has shown these individuals find it challenging if not impossible to work with each other. Farmers have traditionally worked by themselves in conjunction with their immediate family. In numerous communities farmers would cooperate in thrashing gangs, but the day-to-day operation of their farms was carried out on individualistic basis. It has only been in the past 30 years that a small percentage of siblings have attempted to work together.
Farmers to do have a history of working together if the incentives are strong enough. The Dairy Farmers of Ontario formerly known as the Ontario Milk Marketing Board, has been in existence for 35 years. This organization was mandated into power through government legislation and has marketed all the milk in Ontario for the province’s dairy farmers. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture and the Christian Farmers’ Federation are another two examples of organizations which had been strengthened through mandatory membership fees. Other organizations which are totally voluntary tend to not have the mass support that is enjoyed by the Federations and Dairy Farmers of Ontario.
In the past, if you wanted to be “your own boss” and you did not get along with your father or siblings on the “home farm” there was always the opportunity to move elsewhere and secure funding to purchase your own operation. The world of agriculture has changed remarkably in the past 30 years. Farms that are facing the issue of succession within the next 15 years are primarily owned by individuals who started farming since 1970. Financially, it was possible for these individuals to set up their own farming operations and succeed. Their children are faced with a new dilemma. It is becoming increasingly more difficult for the children to think about owning their own farm individually. If there is more than one child who aspires to be a farmer, it is highly probable that the siblings are going to need to work together. Economically, two separate operations may not be feasible.
Why are these Succession Issues More of a Concern Today than in the Past? — top
The answer: Rapid Escalating Asset Values. The reason these issues are so important today is because we are being faced with a paradigm shift in how the next generation of farmers will need to view the ownership of assets. The thinking that “this is mine” and “I am the boss” will need to give way to “this is ours” and “how can we manage this together”. This is a monumental shift in thinking if one considers that for the past 300 years North American agriculture has operated under the “I and my” paradigm vs. the “we and ours” paradigm.
In the space of one generation, parents and children are being faced with the challenge of changing the underlying thinking about how farms are owned and operated. In one generation farm families are being faced with the reality of needing to transcend 300 years of the land ownership and inheritance culture and potentially come up with a new model. This new model will be unique for each family. There is one commonality that each farm family will need to master: If the family farm is to survive the family will need to work together. This topic will be discussed in more detail later in the paper.
Why Spend So Much Time Examining Land Ownership? — top
Winston Churchill once said that the further back in time you can look, the further you’ll be able to see into the future. This is excellent advice on which to begin the discussion of succession planning in the year 2000. All of the past history that we have examined, whether it be fact, mythology, or even outright fiction, these stories and experiences have created the basis for the present generation of farmer’s thinking and decision making. In simple terms, all of the past brings us to the present moment in time — e.g. today’s reality.
Why Is This New Succession Paradigm Facing Farmers Today? — top
The preceding discussion about the history of land ownership and how land has been passed from generation to generation within the context of the entrepreneurial spirit is very important to understand because it is coming to an abrupt halt. The capitalization of the present-day farm compared to when the parents began farming 30 years ago is dramatically different.
The Lily Pond Phenomena — top
The capitalization of farms has increased throughout the past 250 years. Farmland has experienced rapid increases followed by periods of declining values, but the long-term trend has always been upwards. When these numbers are looked at from a percentage increase/decrease perspective, there is not a lot of change from generation to generation. However, the uniqueness of what the baby boomers have experienced is similar to the “lily pond phenomena”. Starting with one lily on the pond on day one, the number of lilies will double each day until the pond is covered on day 30. The proverbial question, “how much of the pond is covered with lilies at day 29″? The answer is half of the pond. Farm asset capitalization over the past 30 years could be viewed in the same framework as the expansion of lilies on the pond. Everyone knew the price of farms was increasing and the value of farm assets was going up. Each day the lily pond’s surface was being covered with twice as many lilies as the day before, but it was a gradual process — everyone knew there were more lilies on the pond than there was the day before, just like we all knew land prices were going up. Examining the lily pond phenomena further it can be seen that it took 26 days to cover 6.24% of the pond. Three days later (day 29) the coverage had grown exponentially to 50% of the pond covered with lilies. In the space of one day the last 50% of the pond was totally covered with lily pads.
If this analogy is equated to the asset values of farms, it is apparent that the past 220 years were like the first 26 days on the lily pond. The bombshell in farm asset values only exploded during the past 30 years. Agricultural assets have grown exponentially in the same manner as the lily pond did in its final four days. This is the crux of the new succession paradigm facing farm families. The increase in capitalization in the last generation is approximately 400%-600%. Percentage increases of this magnitude have also occurred at times prior to 1970, however, the increase in farmland from $200 per acre to $800 per acre is the same percentage increase as going from $1200 per acre to $4800 per acre. The big difference is the aggregate dollar increase ($3600) over the past 30 years is specifically unique to the present generation of farmers. It is the issue of asset value that is going to make a good, fair, and equitable succession plan extremely challenging.
What Is the Reality Facing Farm Families Today? — top
There are very few viable farm operations today that are not worth in excess of $1 million. There are many dairy and feather operations that have asset values that are 300% to 500% in excess of this. In some cases these operations will be providing income for two families (parents and one child, or there may be hired labor, or it may be two siblings working together).
Some Possible Family Scenarios — top
The following example has four children in the family. Two of the children have stayed home to work with their parents. The farm assets are $2.5 million. How do the parents go about setting up the succession plan that will not cause a family revolt?
If economic fairness is the issue, it could prove difficult for the parents to treat each of the children equitably. The land value of the farming operation will be very significant in most situations. An option would be to have all of the children owning the farmland as part of their inheritance. The children who would actually be operating the farm could own the farming operations assets separately. This scenario will necessitate siblings working together in ownership roles — probably for the rest of their lives. Another question that needs to be addressed, “how will the siblings resolve the ownership issue if some of the next generation wants to farm but some don’t”?
An other situation which is probably going to emerge is that if more than one of the individuals in the family want to farm, they may end up needing to work together both as owners and as operators. For example, if there are four children in the family and two of them want to farm, the ownership of the farmland may be divided four ways as inheritance to all of the children. The two who want to farm could take control of the operating assets and the non-farmers may need to share in the ownership of the farm-land asset.
The implications of this reality is significant. Extended farm families (numerous siblings and spouses) will be forced to work together as long-term owners, and also as working partners if they want to remain in farming. There are no models to draw information from in agriculture. Farm families have traditionally been very adamant in defending their right to preserve the family farm.
Are Farm Families Different from their Urban Cousins? — top
There are some very significant differences between the rural family farm business, and a family business based in the city.
In most cases the most significant difference is that the farm family lives right with the business. The residence is frequently less than 100 meters from the workshop or the barn. There are many advantages to living right were you work. The disadvantages, however, can be very significant in stressful times. There is no opportunity to totally escape from your work. The field of hay that has just been rained on three times stares you in the face every time you venture into your yard. Farming operations can involve more than one family which means there is more than one household. This may mean that one family is at the “center” of the activities while the other family can be living miles away from the “home farm”. In some cases this separation is an advantage, in other situations it is a disadvantage because spouse living on the farm “down the road” may feel left out of the farm activities.
Another uniqueness about farm families when compared to their urban business cousins, is the high capitalization and automation found on many farms. The capital cost needed to provide one income can vary between $1 million and $1.5 million. To add the second income will usually require another $500,000 investment. Very few businesses outside of primary agriculture require an investment of $200,000 to $1 million in order to provide an average wage or a “meal ticket”.
Another significant difference is that farms have frequently been in one family for more than three generations. It is a very rare urban business that is still family controlled after three generations. Frequently, the business has expanded to the point where it is bought out by another business or in other cases the business has gone public. In either scenario the founding family’s influence has been dramatically diluted.
Farmers will initially tell you that they farm to make a profit. When you further quiz them becomes apparent that lifestyle and family tradition precedes the desire to make a profit. This is not to negate the economic realities of farming, but it goes to highlight the importance of the dream to farm and the entrepreneurial spirit that tends to live through each generation of farmers.
When comparing farming to the city business, you do not hear the comment that the city person is in business because they enjoy the lifestyle associated with running a business. In the urban business the fundamental reasons for operating the business will tend to change from the founding generation into the first successor generation and again into the third successor generation. There is an adage that businesses call from “shirt sleeve to shirt sleeve” in three generations. Dr. John Fast has observed in his work that less than 30 percent of the businesses will actually make it into the third generation. This is totally contrary to the experience in the countryside. It is much more common to find third, fourth, fifth and even six generation farmers. Because of this difference, it will be necessary to approach the issue of succession somewhat differently for the farm family vs. the city family. The lifestyle component would appear to be much more significant for the farm family. This may also explain why farm families have a tendency to keep on farming even though the rate of return on investment may be declining or totally absent. Traditionally in farming the return on investment averages less than 5%.
The engrained tradition of farming is creating many complications in the succession scenario for the present generation of farm owners. On one hand they will want to treat all of the siblings fairly, yet because high asset values and economics this will be almost impossible, yet the non-farm siblings will possibly look at the dollar value of their potential inheritance and ask why they should be willing to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep the dream alive for their parents and their other siblings who want to farm.
Assessment of Succession Planning Programs — top
The limited amount of programs available in Ontario have primarily originated with OMAFRA. Each county had an agricultural office and was staffed by personnel who had some expertise in the different areas of the farming operations. The banks and other lending institutions such as Farm Credit Corporation have been involved in farm family succession more by default than by plan. When farms transfer from one generation to the next there frequently is a large demand for capital which necessitates the involvement of lenders.
As already mentioned the last major shift in farm ownership occurred in the late 1960’s and 1970’s as the baby-boom generation took over their parents farms. This was prior to the era when it became acceptable to talk about feelings and interpersonal relationships. During this last wave of farm transitions, the main emphasis was on setting up an ownership structure that would provide the most tax advantages. With new challenges emerging for farm families contemplating succession, there will be an increased demand for expertise that goes beyond the legal and accounting fields.
Family Business Centers — top
Approximately 15 years ago “Family Business Centers” began to emerge in the USA. They are usually connected to a university business school. A Family Business Center is an organization were individuals who own or are a part of a family business get together approximately once a month. One of the most important functions of a Family Business Center is that it becomes a safe and non-threatening environment were individuals can actually discuss the ” human dynamic issues” that are so integral to family businesses. The most prominent one in Canada is the Center for Family Business in Waterloo Ontario. It was started four years ago and is associated with Conrad Grebel College which is an affiliate of the University of Waterloo. Dr. John Fast is the director of the Center.
The Center for Family Business in Waterloo holds approximately 9 meetings per year. In the space of four years membership has grown to over 60 family businesses. Family business consultants are not encouraged to attend these sessions because the business owners want to feel totally free when talking about their personal situations. A business owner does not particularly want to stand up and share their problems and then be hit on at the door by a consultant who would like to “fix” the problem.
The general format for the monthly gatherings is either a breakfast meeting, or a day-long seminar. Members are charged a yearly membership fee. Membership fees would usually allow for a specific number of people to attend each event. The Center for Family Business in Waterloo brings in an assortment of leading-edge thinkers and speakers who are experts in the field of family business transitions to keep members to keep members burst in the most cutting-edge thinking available in the area of human dynamics. A newsletter is also published for members.
Will the Family Business Center Model Work in the Farm Community? — top
There is a distinct difference between the farm and urban business in regards to how a Family Business Center can be of service. In the urban setting, there are hundreds of businesses to draw membership from within a 30 minute commute. The farm community on the other hand has a distinct disadvantage when it comes to distance. It may be necessary for farmers to drive 1-2 hours to come to a Center for a meeting. Not every farmer is going to be interested in joining a Family Business Center, so the geographical area to gather an audience from is going to be very widespread compared to a Center serving urban businesses.
It will be challenging for the farm community to develop and implement the same type of model that the urban businesses have found so successful.
Family Firm Institute Inc. — top
Located in Boston Massachusetts, “The Family Firm Institute (FFI) is an international professional organization dedicated to assisting family firms by increasing the interdisciplinary skills and knowledge of family business advisers, educators, researchers and consultants.” The FFI was founded in 1986 by a group of individuals who worked with family businesses. Membership comprises of individuals who include lawyers, accountants, management consultants, educators, mediators, bankers, insurance providers, therapists, and other professionals who work directly with family businesses. The FFI is viewed as an umbrella organization for family business centers by individuals involved in the field of family business succession/consulting.
The Institute holds an annual conference each year. The FFI also recognizes outstanding academic achievement by giving awards for the best doctoral dissertation. There are numerous other awards such as the best “unpublished research paper”. The FFI also hosts a Web site at http://www.ffi.org. One of the most useful tools that the Institute produces is its Yellow Pages directory. This book lists all the members and their professional status along with contact information.
The FFI also publishes a journal called the Family Business Review. The Family Enterprise Center at Kennesaw State University is also a major contributor in the production of the Family Business Review.
Farm Succession Programs in the USA — top
Iowa State University began a Beginning Farmer Center in 1994 as an extension program. The Center came into existence through Chapter 266 of the Code of Iowa and provides, in part, that the Center “shall… assist facilitating the transition of farming operations from established farmers to beginning farmers”.
The Center’s objectives are to provide education programs for beginning farmers, assess the needs of retiring farmers, and provide a network to coordinate retiring farmers without heirs with aspiring beginning farmers. The program to coordinate retiring and beginning farmers is called Farm On . The Farm On program attracts approximately 10 “want to be” young farmers for every farmer who is ready to retire without an heir. The Center also produces a manual called Farm Savvy to assist farmers in guiding themselves through farm transitions. Tentative plans are to have the Farm Savvy available in an Internet format in the near future.
The program at Iowa State University spawned another program called the National Farm Transition Network. The Network has participant offices located in most states where agriculture is a significant industry. The purpose of the Network is to, “support programs that foster the next generation of farmers and ranchers”. The Network holds an annual conference for the exchange of ideas with individuals throughout the USA. An attempt is being made to develop regional models that respond to the unique needs of both retiring and beginning farmers in their respective states. Each state may call their Network by a different name, for example Minnesota calls their program the Minnesota Farm Connection, while Wisconsin calls their program Wisconsin Farm Link. All of these programs loop back to the Beginning Farmer Center program at Iowa State University. John Baker is the coordinator at the Beginning Farmer Center at Iowa State University, and also works directly with participants from other states who are members of the National Farm Transition Network.
Mr. Baker indicated that even though there is a tremendous interest on the part of young people wanting to get into the farming industry, there are tremendous obstacles that must be overcome.
Farm Succession Programs in Canada — top
The province of Quebec has a program called the Resource Center for Farm Establishment. The province is divided into 11 regions with a Center in each region. Each Center has its own Board of Directors and farmers who want to join pay a membership. Members that have the privilege to serve as board members or be involved in any other activity organized by the Center. The 11 centers are overseen by a provincial coordinator. Each Center has their own coordinator who works directly with farmers in each geographic area. Coordinators receive training in mediation, negotiating, financial assistance, and human dynamics. Some of the features that the Centers provide are, transfer feasibility analysis, mediation, strategic planning, information, training, personalized follow-up, twinning and mentoring services . Most families stay with their respective Center for a tenure of approximately two to three years. It takes about this amount of time to work through the transfer process. At the end of that term the family may still choose to maintain limited contact with the Center. The program in Quebec is somewhat similar to the Beginning Farmer Program at the Iowa State University.
In Saskatchewan an Internet educational forum was introduced in 1999 . The Agricultural Institute of Management in Saskatchewan Inc. (AIMS) ran a program called Farm Succession Planning with 16 participants in February of 1999. Plans are to expand this program to include other topics such as farm accounting.
Each province where agriculture plays a significant role has some type of farm succession services available. These programs are usually run through the provincial governments. In Ontario there has been a recent push to develop services for farm families who are anticipating or going through succession. While the possible reason why Ontario has been leading the push to develop programming on succession planning is because OMAFRA has undergone some radical changes and is no longer in a position to have staff working directly with farmers as they have done for so many years in the past.
Research in the Field of Succession Planning — top
Over the past 15 years there has been a significant amount of research done in the field of succession planning. There is a considerable body of literature available on this topic. A large percentage of the work has been focused on the urban family business and comes from Family Business Centers in the U.S.A. However, there has been a significant amount of literature printed on farm family succession .
In 1997 the Canadian Farm Business Management Council (CFBMC) published a four series succession guide called , Managing the Multigenerational Family Farm that was coordinated by Wayne Howard who was a professor at the University of Guelph at the time, and Lorne Owen. This is an excellent resource for farm families who are going through a transition.
Sandra Salamon did considerable research in the USA in the 1980s on farm families. She developed a model that essentially put farm families into one of two categories: Entrepreneurial or Yeoman. The main difference she found between the two family types was that the entrepreneurial family was very competitive, both among themselves, and also in the business world. These families were profit motivated. In contrast, the yeoman family was much less competitive. The family’s primary focus was to insure a continuity of ownership into the next generation. Salamon found that this family type was more concerned about the farming lifestyle compared to expansion and competition. Another finding worth noting is that families of German, Irish, and Swedish descent, frequently fell into the yeoman category, while the entrepreneurial family was predominantly “Yankee”.
Janet Edgar Taylor, Joan E. Norris, and Wayne H. Howard, published a paper in 1998, Succession Patterns of Farmer and Successor in Canadian Farm Families. The thirty six Canadian farm families where from British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland, and Ontario took part in the study. The purpose of this paper was to test the typology that Salamon had written about a decade earlier. Taylor et al. found that Salamon’s typology would only fit approximately 25% of Canadian farm families. The remaining 75% of the farm families were slotted into a new model. In the new model, Taylor et al. proposed to classified families as either expanders or conservators. Using this model it is possible to predetermine differences between the farmer and the successor. The father may be an expander while the successor is more conservator oriented. Conversely, the father may be a conservator, and the successor may be an expander. Using the typology of Taylor et al., it is possible to come up with four different family systems of management. This new model allows for more flexibility in understanding the dynamics of different families.
This work highlights some significant implications for individuals planning to working with families in the succession process. There is the potential for conflict with a conservator father and an expander successor. The father may feel that the successor wants to move too fast. On the other hand, if the father was an expander and the successor exhibits more conservator characteristics, the father may be very hesitant to let the younger generation take control for fear they might not have the ability and the aggressiveness to keep the farming business afloat. Another point to be aware of is that if there are siblings working together along with the father the human dynamic can change depending upon whether both siblings are conservators, both expanders, or one of each.
Andrew Errington, Research Chair In Rural Development, Department of Land Use and Rural Management, The University of Plymouth, in England, conducted research in both Canada and Europe on the “ladder of farm succession”. In Canada, this work was focused on farmers in Ontario and Quebec. In Europe, farm families from both England and France were used in the research. Errington found a distinct cultural difference in how fast successors moved up the succession ladder. He found there was a direct relationship between how fast successors moved into decision-making and how much time they spent working alongside their parents. In France successors spent more time working alongside their parents than in any of the other three locations. He found in Ontario successors spent the least amount of time working with their parents.
It is significant to note that research conducted by Errington and Salamon both the show distinct differences that are tied directly to the cultural backgrounds that the farm families originated from. This revelation is important to understand because even though there may be two families who are in the dairy business, because they originated from different cultural backgrounds the issue of succession planning may very well need to be addressed differently.
Geoffrey Tually from the University of Melbourne in Australia has been working with farm families and recently wrote an article, Putting the Family Back into the Family Farm. Tually’s challenges that the inheritance tradition has been the most important aspect of farming. He proposes that each family consider their highest priorities and give consideration to keeping the farm separate from the farming operation. Ultimately, they do become one but if ownership of land is looked at separately from being a farmer, it is possible to include family members as farm owners who are not involved in the farming operation. His experience in Australia has shown that in some cases the farm family spends their whole lifetime paying out siblings, which puts severe financial limitations on how fast the business can grow. Tually also recommends that farm families work with a team of advisers which includes lawyers, accountants, and specialists involved in sorting out the human dynamic aspect that is involved in farm family operations. His research has shown that the inability of families to communicate is a significant roadblock to the mental health of the family as well as the financial success of both parents and children.
Another piece of extensive research done in Canada is the paper, Factors That Influence the Next Generation’s Decision to Take over the Family Farm, authored by Colette Dumas, Jean Pierre Dupuis, Francine Richer, and Louise St.-Cyr. Their research was with farm families in Quebec. In-depth interviews with 30 next-generation family members were done with 30 farm families. They focused primarily on individuals between 21 and 28 years of age. There were15 females and 15 males involved in the succession process respectively. The research found that succession is a multistage process. The authors labeled the four stages, incubation, choice of successor, joint management, and the predecessor’ s departure. A very interesting finding that this study highlighted was the importance of birth-order in succession of the family farm in Quebec. Six women out of the 15 were the youngest in their family, while 13 out of the 15 were in the youngest one-third of their family. There was only one woman who was the oldest in the family. Among the males there were similar results. Seven out of the 15 were the youngest, while nine out of 15 were in the youngest one-third of their families. The biggest difference between the sexes was that five out of 15 males were the oldest in their families. The researchers also highlighted another finding, “the primary implications for succession planning can be found in recognizing that the factors influencing the succession decision start at a very early age, in the incubation stage, and are firmly grounded in family roots.” This research highlights how important it is to view farm family succession as a process that spans generations and is not just a one time occurrence like estate planning. Dumas et al. have provided some very interesting findings that relates specifically to birth orders, and to view succession as a lifelong process for families.
Even though there is a significant amount of information available on the topic of family farm succession, the results from the research while very interesting, actually create a lot more questions that hopefully further research can address in the future.
Services for Farm Families — top
Farm families frequently find themselves totally immersed in their work. The farm is their life and all of their dreams and aspirations are wrapped up in it. At times it is imperative to stand back to take a moment and reflect on the past and plan for the future. Living on the farm can be similar to a fish that lives in a sea of water. Until the fish leaps out of the water and observes the water from a different perspective it really has no concept of what water is because that is the only reality it has ever known. The farm family can all too often get caught up in its own “sea” of reality.
A starting point in working with farm families is to build an awareness that each family is a unique entity with their own unique family system. The family must be shown how to “step back” from the business and take a look at the family dynamics at work within their family. It is necessary to show the farm family that they have a commonality with other farm families in that families are made up of human beings, human beings have emotions and respond to their emotions. The agricultural community has been constantly bombarded with the mantra that they must constantly become more efficient producers to survive in the industry. Efficiency and expansion had been perceived to be the key to future profitability. Both efficiency and expansion can be easily measured in quantitative terms. The year-end financial statement provides benchmarks for measuring success against past years. When it comes to the issue of succession and family relationships, things subtly make an abrupt turn and wander into the world of qualitative measurement which is totally subjective and a constantly moving target. While farmers have been extremely receptive to adapting production based technology into their operations, they have frequently been very reluctant to adapt resources to make them better communicators, more effective listeners, win-win negotiators, and in general more complete human beings. These human development technologies are much more widely adopted by the corporate business world as evidenced by the number of businesses providing training for employees. This is not a slight against farmers because traditionally more profit on the farm has come as a direct result of more efficient use of tangible resources such as labor, equipment, and debt. In the farming community the last frontier to receive attention is the mastering of the human dynamic. A possible reason why agriculture has been slow to adapt human resource development services is because of the entrepreneurial paradigm found in farming — individuals working alone or with their immediate family. In a way this has been a blessing, at the same time it frequently creates the perception that they are the only farm family with problems or challenges. The next generation is facing the possibility that the ownership of the land or even the farm operation may be shared by numerous siblings whether they all work together or whether they are joint owners with some being operators and some being absentee shareholders. This is a giant step away from the family system most farm operations have evolved from over the past few centuries. Individuals working with farm families will need to understand why human dynamic training has so far not been adapted at the farm level.
Service Provider Skills Sets — top
Individuals working with farm families in the “human dynamic issue” area of succession planning will need to possess skills that are multidimensional. In the research leading up to this paper many interviews were conducted with service providers from the legal, accounting, and counseling fields. It was interesting that both the legal and accounting fields frequently said they possessed the skills necessary to facilitate a smooth succession. The interviews with individuals from the counseling fields frequently expressed the opinion that service providers must be well versed in the field of negotiation techniques. Listening skills are a priority. It is also necessary to understand the complexity of “family systems”. The human dynamics that come into play in family systems are just that — dynamic. They are constantly changing and because farming is such a weather depended industry, the human dynamic factor has the potential to change as rapidly as the weather conditions on a humid July day. Another factor to understand when working with farm families is that they not only work together, they socialize together, they attend family events together, they frequently live in close proximity to each other, and in reality spend almost all of their time in some type of contact with one another. The definition of the word family can have a slightly different meaning in the agricultural community compared to non-farm individuals. Service providers must be cognizant of this factor. Virtually all persons involved in the field of succession and estate planning agree that the easy part of the process is putting together the numbers and the legal agreements. The difficult part is to design a system that all members of the family can buy in to and will support.
The Future of Succession Work — top
The topic of farm succession is beginning to roll off everyone’s tongue who is even remotely connected to agriculture. The legal and accounting fields along with the financial service providers are rapidly developing their own type of programs to roll out for the farm community to use. There appears to be a sense of urgency on the part of the support industry that if they do not get on this “bandwagon” immediately they may get left behind. This is of a particular concern because most of these individuals who are working with farmers are in business to sell other products or services and the issue of understanding human dynamics within the context of succession is only a secondary interest at best. However, because the service providers don’t want to be left behind they may attempt to claim to be versed in succession issues and not really have a true understanding of what they are getting into when they sit down with the farm family. There appears to be a very acute need for training of the service providers. This is a double-edged sword so to speak. Most of these individuals are primarily interested in working with the farm families up to the point where the farm family purchases their product or service. In other words, once the sale is made the service provider must move on to procure more business. At the same point in time the service provider who has a moderate amount of knowledge in this field may have inadvertently opened up issues that the farm family had no idea were actually at work in their “family system”. The farm family is now left to fend for themselves and maybe worse off than they were originally. This is a serious concern for everyone involved in the area of succession work with farm families. It is a significant concern because unlike working with the hard issues were facts and figures rule the day, the human dynamics issues deal with emotions and feelings and it is difficult to predict in what direction they will take you.
The challenge for the individuals involved in succession planning is to create an industry-wide awareness in the agricultural community as to what succession is all about. In the past the term estate planning was used to reference the transfer of assets from one generation to the next. However, in the past few years the word “succession” has crept into our vernacular. In the eyes of the farm community, the word “estate” is being exchanged for the word “succession”. It can be argued that both terms are interchangeable when referring to the continuation of the farming operation from one generation to the next. However, in reality there are two very distinct parallel events that take place simultaneously when the farm business makes the transition from one generation into the next.
The first event is that precise moment in time when the transfer of assets change from one generation to the next. Accountants and lawyers make these events happen with precision – frequently to optimize tax savings. This is true estate planning!
The second event that is taking place at the same time that estate planning is being done, is the issue of farm family succession. The operative word in the previous sentence is “family”. While farm family succession is inherently tied to estate planning, there is a distinct difference. The difference is that succession of the farm family is directly tied to emotions, feelings, thoughts, attitudes, traditions, and beliefs of all the individuals involved who combine to make up the family system. This even includes family members who will have no financial connections to the outcome, but have at sometime been part of the family structure i.e. siblings of the successor/successors.
If all service providers take the time to separate the succession issues from the estate issues it will be easier to work with the farm family and help them understand that there are two parallel issues taking place simultaneously. The challenge for the service providers is to become clear in their mind how they can best help them each specific family. Just as a family business owner is simultaneously both a parent, boss, and owner, a knowledgeable service provider will have the ability to partition their services an focus on the estate issues separately from the succession issues. It will be necessary to explain to the farm family the differences between succession planning and estate planning. Estate planning is truly a pivotal moment in time for the family. Succession planning on the other hand is frequently a series of many events that may take many years to evolve. There are very few farm families were the younger generation takes over one day, and parents walk away from the farm immediately. To be of value to farm families service providers will need to view succession as lifetime process. Parents are setting the stage for the next generation to take the reins of the family farm when they buy their children toys and send them out to the sandbox to play. Sandbox farming is the rehearsal stage where children begin to practice and learn farming skills. In the past, entrepreneurialism combined with independence were two key ingredients that almost guaranteed success in a farming career. As this paper has highlighted on numerous occasions, the independence trait of farmers will need to give way to a new paradigm of cooperation. In families were there is conflict between siblings and even with parents, they would benefit by closely examining the dynamics that took place in the sandbox as the siblings were growing up. Behavioral patterns develop at a very young age and frequently carry through into adulthood. When farm family relationships break down it is often possible to trace the origin back to communication patterns that were developed when the siblings were young.
By separating the succession and estate issues it will be possible for farm families to examine their goals and motives more easily. The whole process of transferring the family farm is a monumental task that takes a tremendous amount of emotional energy. For example, when learning to ride a bicycle, there are many techniques that must be mastered: balancing on two wheels, steering, peddling — all of these must be mastered one at a time and then combined into one sequential motion. It is a rare individual that can master all of these new technique simultaneously. In the transfer of the family farm there are many new techniques and situations that both the farmer and successor must master. Letting go of responsibility and accepting responsibility is using broad strokes of a paintbrush to cover all the innuendoes involved in a successful transfer. If the succession/estate model is used it will allow families to take apart and examine the succession transfer process in small and digestible parts. By becoming aware of how the “old” system worked and sitting down and working together to design a “new system” for decision-making and delegation of tasks etc., the opportunity for future success will be greatly enhanced. The ultimate goal of every family transfer should be to have a stronger business and stronger family relationships after the intergenerational transfer is complete than what there was before.
Providing Services for Farm Families — top
It is apparent from the Family Business Center models that have evolved in the USA, Canada, Australia, and Europe, education is the key component. Almost every Center without exception is closely associated with a university. The farm community is ready for this information as evidenced by one farm family mother who attended a seminar on farm transfer. This mother said that frequently it is the mother who gets trapped between her son and her husband. Communication is the biggest challenge according to this farm mother. The first element of education is to create an awareness among farm families that when the transition of ownership takes place there is actually a larger component involved in the transfer — the human dynamic factor. This human dynamic factor can in some situations be so complex that attempting to bring the next generation into the farming operation would not be in the best interests of anyone involved. On the other extreme, there are families that communicate and understand each other to the point where disagreements are extremely rare.
Creating Education Programs — top
The first goal of the education process is to explore the concept that farmers are also human-beings and have emotions and feelings. It is okay to actually express feelings and emotions. It is okay to talk about the dreams and fears of the future — getting older, realizing that many of your dreams may not come true, concerned about the abilities of the children to keep the business of float, and does everyone feel they have been treated fairly. Many of the individuals looking at transferring their farms to the next generation were raised in an era when verbalizing this type of thinking was a sign of weakness. Farm families also need to understand that virtually every family encounters some type of conflict that must be addressed from time to time. Healthy families do not mean lack of conflict. Even the inability to resolve conflict does not constitute an unhealthy family. There are very few farm families (or families in general) that do not have situations in their past that could have been handled differently and provided better outcomes. However, to dwell on past shortcomings can set the stage for continued failure in the future. Once farm families have decided that they want to venture into the area of farm succession there are two primary avenues to begin the succession process through: Interpersonal communication and a self-awareness of your own personal goals, needs, and dreams are the two priorities.
Socrates said, “know thyself”. This is an excellent starting point to get a grasp on self-awareness. The parents must give a lot of thought to the type and quality of life they want to lead in their latter years. Likewise, the younger generation must know at a very deep level within themselves that farming is their chosen vocation – that they have a passion for it, that it will be much different than what it was for their parents.
When it comes to interpersonal communication Stephen Covey says it best, “you must learn to understand before you can be understood”. Communication is a huge cornerstone in the structure of successful businesses. It is imperative that the parents can understand the needs and goals of the children. The children on the other hand must also attempt to understand the sacrifices and challenges that the parents have gone through to bring the business to the present moment. Learning to appreciate the past contributions of all individuals can help make the transition much smoother and amicable as the business is launched into the excitement of the next generation.
Once all parties in the family have begun to clarify their personal situation in the succession process, the next step is to begin to focus on who will be the successor and what roles the other siblings will play. In some cases two or more siblings may be taking over the family farm together. In other situations it may be one sibling who will take over the farm by themselves. Because of the asset value of most family farms today, it may be necessary to separate the operating assets from the land of assets (Tually’s admonition from his experience in Australia). While this initially may appear to be an accounting and legal task, it very quickly becomes a succession issue if there are siblings involved who will not play a part in the farming operation. The parents may find it necessary to include non-farm siblings as owners in the farmland. If this is the path of choice, estate issues begin to mix quite tightly with succession issues. The family now begins to venture into a potential quagmire. With siblings acting as joint owners there is great potential for disagreement. The majority of this disagreement can be alleviated by utilizing astute legal and financial advice before any agreements are entered into. However, if a dispute should arise it is conceivable that sibling relationships can be damaged — oftentimes permanently. This is where the succession part of farm transfer becomes exceedingly important. The family eventually must ask the critical question. What comes first, healthy family relationships, or the continuance of the business at all costs. Educating farm families on the importance of investigating all potential situations before venturing into the farm transfer will help to insure happiness and success for all individuals.
Summary — top
This paper has spent a considerable amount of time examining the history of landownership and the trends of the past 30 years will play such an integral part of the farm transfer processes that will take place over the next 20-25 years. The baby boom generation is on center stage in the farm transfer process. The baby boomer generation has increased actual farm asset values like no other generation has been past history. Because of their sheer numbers they continued to outbid each other to the point where there is a lot of paper wealth tied up in agriculture today.
As the baby boomers begin to face retirement there is the challenge to transfer their farms with the associated wealth to their children. Past models of farm transfer are not relevant today simply because of the capital asset values that are now associated with viable farming operations.
Endnotes — top
Personal interview with Bill Chesney of Innerkip Ontario, June 28 2000.
Dairy Farmers of Ontario, June 21, 2000.
Ontario Port Board, June 21 2000.
Bob Ballantyne of Ayr Tractor, June 23 2000.
Richard Cressman, local information by author.
Fast, Dr. John, Personal Interview, July 14 2000.
Fast, Dr. John, Personal Interview July 15, 2000.
Cressman, Richard, the author has observed in working with clientele of over 150 farm accounts that there are only fifteen who are not at least third generation farmers. They may not be located on the original family farm, but nonetheless they’re still farming. This is not statistically significant data but it does show the trend in agriculture has been to passing on the farm.
Ontario Federation of Agriculture Field Person, July 1999.
Personal interview with Dr. John Fast, May 29 2000.
Personal interview with Dr. John Fast.
Center for Family Business, Yearly Membership Fee for 2000.
Family Firm Institute Inc. Yellow Pages Spring 1999.
Joesph H. Astrachan, editor.
About the Beginning Farmer Center — Web Site in References.
Web address for Farm On.
Web address for Farm Savvy Manual.
Web Address for National Farm Transition Network.
Personal interview with the John Baker.
Personal interview with Suzanne Laplante, the only bilingual coordinator of one of the centers on March 10 2000.
Syllabuses of the protocol used by the resource center for farm establishment in Quebec (obtained from Suzanne Laplante, Center coordinator).
Agricultural Institute of Management in Saskatchewan Inc. www.agr.gov.ca/aims/
Howard, Wayne; Owen, Lorne, Managing the Multigenerational Family Farm Canadian Farm Business Management Council.
Taylor, Janet E.; Wayne Howard, and Joan E. Norris, Succession Patterns of Farmer and Successor in Canadian Farm Families.
Errington, Andrew, (1998).
Tually, Jeffrey, Putting the Family Back into the Family Farm (1999).
Colette Dumas, Jean Pierre Dupuis, Francine Richer, and Louise St.-Cyr. Factors Influence the Next Generation’s Decision to Take over the Family Farm, Family Business Review, Volume VIII Number 2 Summer 1995, Page 99.
— Organized seminar — John Fast was speaker, March 1999 Farm Succession Presentation at Stratford, Oct. 26 by Author 1999.
Personal Interview with Heidi Wagner Director of the Waterloo Rural Women’s Network.
Web Sites — top
Agricultural Institute of Management in Saskatchewan Inc. www.agr.gov.sk.ca/aims/spkrprog.htm
Arbitration and Mediation Institute of Canada Inc. www.amic.org/main.html
Austin Family Business Program www.familybusinessonline.org/business/resources/checklists/usdaq.cfm
Canadian Farm Business Management Council www.cfbmc.com
Dairy Farmers of Ontario www.milk.org
Delaware Valley Family Business Center www.dvfambus.com/index2.html
Enhanced Performance Systems, ACT http//:home.golden.net/~eps/
Family Enterprise Center www.kennesaw.edu/fec/programs.htm
Family Solutions for Your Family Business www.fbop.com/cgi-bin/SoftCart.exe/aronoff.html?L+mystore2+lgcj5388+947552491
Farm Succession www.farmsuccession.com/Home/home.html
Issues of New Zealand Farm Succession www.maf.govt.nz/MAFnet/publications/smsucn/httoc.htm
Liebowitz & Associates, PC www.liebowitzassoc.com/stepseven.htm
Loyola Family Business Center www.gsb.luc.edu/centers/fbc
McMurry University Family Business Center www.mcm.edu/academic/fambus/family.htm
National Farm Transition Network http://www.extension.iastate.edu/Pages/bfc/national/homepage.html
Ontario Pork Producers www.ontariopork.on.ca
Robinson and Company www.robinson.ca/
Salisbury Management Services Inc. www.salisbury-management.com
Selected Family Business Sources on the World Wide Web
Statistics Canada www.statcan.ca/english/Pgdb/
The Beginning Farmer Center Programs www.extension.iastate.edu/Pages/bfc
The Cambridge Center for Creative Enterprise www.camcenter.org
The Family Firm Institute www.ffi.org
The Rainier Group Inc. www.rainiergroup.com/home.htm
The Umass Family Business Center www.umass.edu/fambiz/linkpage.htm
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