Growing Good Communication for Your Operation
Every farmer faces questions about how to operate, how to position for the future, who should own the farm, and who has the talent to manage it. While all of these questions are difficult, each one must be confronted.
The biggest threat to the future of the family farm isn’t crop prices, land prices, or federal regulation. It is the lack of positive and consistent communication within the farm family.
Changing a pattern of communication does not happen overnight and will take practice. In the long term, the consequences of not trying are ultimately the possible fractures in family relationships and the loss of family ownership of the farm.
To help you get the dialogue started, there are 10 questions that every farm family should ask each family member. Asking these questions will create a dialogue and will clarify gaps in perceptions and expectations.
1. What does it mean to be a (insert family name)?
This is a great icebreaker question for families holding a family meeting or if you are just riding around together in the truck. The responses of your spouse, children, and grandchildren might surprise you.
A discussion about what it means to be a (insert last name) may initiate a conversation that allows emotion to bubble up and perhaps facilitate a generational connection that didn’t exist before.
2. What is the biggest unknown regarding the future of the family farm?
The future of the family farm usually looks different depending on who’s doing the looking. Each participant sees the farm through a different lens, and it is unreasonable to assume you know how each person feels without asking directly.
While all responses may not be the same, it will be crucial to know the perceptions of family members in order to manage expectations and to have the type of conversations necessary so no one is surprised by big decisions regarding the farm.
Ultimately, it is crucial that the generations understand the fears of each other and then respect and work through the uncertainty together.
3. What is or would be the hardest thing about being a parent and a farm owner?
One key challenge of perpetuating the farm is found in the multiple roles that people play simultaneously.
One example may be a mother, wife, and co-owner of the farm with non-operating in-laws. In this situation, it is natural to be conflicted in how you treat people and situations depending on what hat you are wearing at the time. Some things that you would want to do as a mother would not be appropriate to do if you were only an owner of the farm.
As a parent, your desire to treat children equally can cause significant operational challenges if not carefully executed. Coming to terms with your multiple roles and then working through the challenges of making decisions in these situations will be critical to navigating the complexities that you face.
4. What do you perceive as the biggest challenge of shared ownership in a family farm?