Farm succession planning is a critical topic that often gets brushed under the rug due to a variety of emotional and practical reasons. Families and farm owners may avoid discussing succession because of deeply rooted values, fear of mortality and the uncertainty of what lies ahead. However, addressing these concerns and initiating a conversation about succession is essential for the long-term sustainability and success of the farm. In this article, we will explore why farm succession conversations are often avoided and provide practical ways to open the door to this crucial dialogue.

Striegel rena
President / Transition Point / Business Advisors

Values and tradition

Many farm families have a tradition of keeping their financial matters, including the farm's future, private. There is a cultural reluctance to discuss personal wealth and assets. Additionally, some individuals believe that discussing succession implies a lack of trust in the current leadership or may even be seen as an admission of aging.

Facing mortality

Confronting one's own mortality is never easy. Farm owners who have poured their heart and soul into their land and operations may struggle with the idea of planning for a future where they are no longer at the helm. It can be emotionally challenging to come to terms with the fact that life is finite.

Uncertainty and fear

Succession planning introduces a degree of uncertainty. There may be concerns about how different family members might react to proposed plans, and there's often a fear of disappointing everyone involved. Additionally, the fear of financial instability after transferring the farm can paralyze individuals from taking action.

Opening the door to succession conversations

To overcome the barriers to discussing farm succession, it's crucial to initiate the conversation in a thoughtful and considerate manner. Here are some strategies to help open the door to these important discussions:

  1. Connect through history and experience. Start by showing genuine interest in your family members’ history and experiences. Ask open-ended questions about what it was like for them when they started farming, their goals and their dreams. Encourage them to share their personal journey. This not only builds rapport but also helps you understand their values and aspirations.
  2. Address current concerns. Another way to broach the topic is to ask about their concerns regarding the farm's current state. Are there any issues they are worried about, such as declining profitability, aging equipment or labor shortages? Listening to their concerns demonstrates your willingness to support them and ensures that the conversation remains focused on practical matters.
  3. Explore others’ future visions. Ask your family member about their vision for the farm's future. What do they want to see in the coming years or decades? This question can help them articulate their hopes and dreams for the farm, which can serve as a starting point for discussing succession plans.
  4. Discuss steps for succession. Transitioning from discussing dreams to concrete succession plans can be challenging. However, it's essential to gradually shift the conversation toward practical steps. Ask what they believe needs to happen to make their vision for the farm a reality. This can include discussions about transferring ownership, training successors and setting up legal and financial arrangements.
  5. Seek professional guidance. If the conversation becomes too complex or emotionally charged, consider involving a professional mediator, financial adviser or attorney with experience in farm succession. They can provide valuable insights, help facilitate discussions and ensure that the process remains fair and legally sound.
  6. Establish regular conversations. Succession planning is not a one-time discussion; it's an ongoing process. Schedule regular family meetings or check-ins to review and update the succession plan as circumstances change. This can help maintain transparency and ensure that everyone's concerns are addressed.

Farm succession planning is a vital but often challenging conversation to initiate. Overcoming the reluctance to discuss values, mortality and uncertainty requires patience, empathy and a commitment to the long-term success of the farm. By using these strategies to open the door to succession conversations, families can work together to ensure a smooth transition and secure the future of their agricultural legacy.