Brothers and sisters farming together can make for many different, interesting and somewhat challenging dynamics.

Froese elaine
Certified Farm Family Coach
Elaine Froese, CSP, CAFA, CHICoach and her team of coaches are here to help you find harmony thro...

1. Oldest son syndrome. Birth order has been very well researched by Dr. Kevin Leman. Seek out his work for the different traits of first-born sons. My coaching experience tells me some founders automatically default choosing the oldest son as successor, which may not be a great idea if the younger sons or daughters have better skill sets for managing and leadership. Match the skill sets and passions to the jobs required on your farm. Hire out for gaps in skills that are missing.

2. Gender bias. I know a farm family where the daughter is the main manager, and her brother is a skilled mechanic who does not like to manage people. Where is it written the brother needs to be the manager just because he does not take time off to birth babies? The farming daughter should consider live-in childcare options, and her brother could learn more management skills to make their team stronger.

3. Work ethic. “My brother likes to quit early, even when there is more work to be done.” This is a very common complaint from those guys who work 70 percent harder than their farming brothers. This is likely a case of conflict avoidance, where I would ask the brothers to track their time so they have something they can measure and discuss.

The other side of this is the workaholic brother who never wants to spend time with family, yet you do. Work/life balance is a polarity, a problem that never goes away and will always need to be managed. Make sure your spouse is aligned with your work value system and the two of you are not feeling short-changed.


4. Family stages vary. One brother is 15 years older, and his kids are a lot further ahead than their cousins. You cannot “catch up” for the different stages and ages of the kids. What you can do is figure out how the aging brother needs something different in terms of time and compensation than the younger brother.

Older brothers resent younger brothers who do not take responsibility for their actions. You might need to be patient to give your brother some maturing time.

5. Family living costs vary. What is the combined family income of you and your off-farm-income spouse? And your brother and his non-employed wife? This inequality of family income stream is not a problem to be fixed by the farm cash flow.

This is a hot potato for discussion as to what roles on the farm are to be paid for. Some farm brothers expect all spouses to contribute labor (unpaid, in some cases). Your spouse may have no interest in the farm, so she stays out of all things “farm.” If you have an operating agreement that includes the income-splitting percentages for your farm partnership, then you have a code of conduct to follow.

If financial management is not healthy within the marriage, then it behooves the spouses to address the problem together and create solutions. Track your family living expenses so you can be aware and find ways to meet your farm cash flow demands properly. Talk about your resentment or frustrations openly as the farm cash flow has limits (or does it?).

6. Relationship status varies. One brother is a bachelor. What are his plans for his personal land and his estate? Is it rude to ask now for some future rights on purchasing his assets when he is ready to sell? Single brothers may want to continue ownership of land as landlords. What written agreements could be put in place in order to give nephews and nieces an opportunity to buy the uncle’s equity? Does the bachelor have a legal written will, and who is his executor?

7. Divorce has derailed my brother. Long-term farming brothers have transition plans destroyed when divorce causes a financial strain on one brother’s family and the entire farm cash flow. Former spouses who leave the farm team with frustration have moved on, and you will need to let go of “what-if thinking” and make plans for the new scenario.

The huge cost of divorce may impede the divorced brother from following his original transition plan. He may need to work for another decade or more to recoup some of his financial setbacks.

8. My brother is a spender. He loves new iron, and I am more cautious and conservative. Different financial management styles may have worked well when you were building up the farm over the last 20 years, but now a new perspective arrives with the energy- and risk-embracing next generation.

How transparent are you with your financial situation to all generations on your farm team? Learn to collaborate your decision-making or else create an exit plan to have separate enterprises each brother manages on their own. What does the written business plan predict?

9. Destructive patterns are ruining our relationship. Drug or alcohol abuse are examples where substance abuse is ruining the ability of the players to make sound decisions for the farm. Be strong, and get help. It is not a sign of weakness to go to the doctor for a physical yearly or to ask for a referral to an addiction counselor. The years of enabling bad behavior are now over. Take a stand for what is healthy emotionally, spiritually and physically. Get the right professionals involved in treatment.

10. My brother does not love me. Seek healing for your emotional well-being. You cannot force other people to treat you well if they choose otherwise. You are responsible for your behavior and feelings. Consider seeing a counselor.

11. I like grain; my brother loves cows. Time for separate enterprises?  end mark

Elaine Froese has spent many hours with the “I have a brother” story. Make yours work well for the sake of family harmony and farm team success. Visit Elaine Froese for free resources like the “Farm Family Toolkit.”

Elaine Froese