Ten Ways to Break Up the Farm

Dr. Allen Young
USU Extension Dairy Specialist

An article by Jolene Brown in the 2003 Proceedings of the National Dairy Calf and Heifer Conference on things that families do to break up their business caught my eye because I have seen almost every one of them as I have dealt with dairy families. I also think they apply to other family-run businesses.

The topic of farm transfer, either in job responsibilities or ownership, is an extremely sensitive one that can bring out the �Jekyll and Hyde� in people you would never dream of seeing act in such crazy ways. When you throw several generations plus the in-laws (or outlaws) into the mix, explosions occur, usually to the detriment of the business.

Ms. Brown is a professional speaker from the Ag Speakers Network. Her top ten list comes from stories people have told her, and I think they are instructive in terms of things that need to be avoided. Her list of top ten stupid things families do to break up their business is as follows:
  1. Assuming that genetic (blood-line) relationships equal good working relationships.
  2. Believing the business can financially support any and all family members who want to join.
  3. Assuming others will / should / must change and not me.
  4. Presuming a conversation is a contract.
  5. Believing mind reading is an acceptable form of communication.
  6. Failing to build communication skills and business/family meeting tools when the times are good so they�ll be in place to use when the times get tough.
  7. Ignoring the in-laws, off-site family, and employees.
  8. Forgetting to use common courtesy.
  9. Having no legal and discussed estate [planning], management transfer plan, or buy/sell agreement.
  10. Failing to celebrate.
I would like to reinforce some of the ideas listed above. I think it is a normal feeling to want to provide for the future of the whole family. If there are several siblings, the problem comes when one person stays on the farm and the remainder of the children leave for off-farm jobs. When the will is made, the only inheritance available is the farm. The question then becomes one of how to be fair to the siblings, yet keep the farm intact? If there is a 3rd generation working on the farm, the possibilities become frightening, and usually ugly. I suggest you decide if you want the farm to be kept intact. If so, make the transfer of total control and ownership to the person running the farm. The inheritance for the other siblings then needs to be determined as a separate issue. I have seen too many good farms go under because they could not farm on what was left after the probate. Don�t delay; start now while you can do it without the emotional burden that comes from the passing of a loved one.

Keeping the farm viable still comes down to effective communication. Get things in writing because even though I think it is great that a person�s word is their bond, memories can fade over time, and I have seen some very messy problems due to not having something written on paper.

Consider the above list and if you see deficiencies, start working on them now.

(Reprinted from Farm Times; if you have questions or desire further information, contact Allen Young (alleny@ext.usu.edu or (435) 797-3763)). ©