The family farm is more than a business. For many Iowans, it’s a way of life passed down from generation to generation. And most families want to see that tradition continue. And yet, many of those families are unwilling to openly discuss a farm transition plan to sustain their farm in the event of a death or retirement.
That reticence is natural and often comes from a fear of conflict or concerns about making a bad situation worse. Additionally, even during the best of times it’s not uncommon for the head of the family to feel uncomfortable discussing personal and financial matters. Furthermore, even when a family is willing to discuss these things, it’s unlikely that everyone will readily agree on the critical issues.
It’s a can of worms and there’s never an easy time to open it. But putting these discussions off “until tomorrow” is the same as deciding not to have them. It’s a missed opportunity to bring your family together to work out a plan everyone can live with. It also means your family may have to deal with the fallout of decisions that were made without their input or, worse yet, decisions that weren’t made at all. The product of all this can be, and often is, family feuds that go on for years. Strife like this can end a family farm if it goes unchecked.
So what’s a farm family to do if talking about it causes conflict and argument but not talking about it risks contempt and resentment?
Farm Transition Planning & Mediation Services
If your family has difficulty talking about these issues, family farm mediation services may be your answer.
Family farm transition planning must begin with a willingness to communicate. When disagreements are ignored or go unresolved, communication about even the most routine issues can break down. No matter where or when the breakdown occurred, family farm mediation can assist farm families in resolving a wide variety of conflicts and disagreements, including contracts, credit problems, wetland issues, USDA programs, problems with neighbors, and transition planning, just to name a few.
A family farm mediator can create a safe space for your family to talk openly and communicate effectively. Sometimes the mediator will speak to individual family members separately, in small groups, or all together depending upon your family’s unique dynamics and circumstances. Helping family members talk openly and productively about issues allows the family to clear the air, feel heard, and explain what they are thinking and why they feel the way they do. Fully-informed decisions are typically the best decisions.
During this process, the mediator helps the family reveal long-held assumptions about the family farm business. Desires and hopes of each party can be explored and aired. This enables the decision-makers to better understand what everyone else thinks, that all perspectives are important, and what each expects or hopes will happen. The ultimate goal is to help family members reach a consensus, or at least a compromise, that they can all live with regarding the future of the family farm. Even if not every family member gets everything they wish for, at least everyone gains a better understanding and a more complete picture of what will happen down the road in a process that feels safe, clear, and constructive.
Once the dispute has been discussed and a consensus is reached among the family members, a farm transition plan should be drafted. Such a plan often incorporates the elements of sound business planning, financial management, and estate planning.
Your family farm business is a valuable tradition worth protecting. What are you doing to protect it? If you’d like to discuss a transition plan for your farm, call Iowa Land Sales & Farm Management for a free consultation.