Q Our 22-year-old son is graduating in December with a degree in ag business and management. He is struggling with the fact that we’re encouraging him to seek off-farm employment before he comes back to the farm permanently. He feels this is an unnecessary punishment. What advice can you offer me or him?
There is no better training ground than an off-farm occupation
A First, congratulate him on his accomplishments in school and encourage him to continue learning. He is not just preparing to work on the farm; he is preparing himself for the profession of farming. The chores and daily tasks of farming are a lot different than managing an operation, making financial decisions on razorthin margins and working with a variety of personalities, such as relatives, employees, local businesspeople, etc.
Most farming operations are multimilliondollar affairs. It takes a professional versed in finance and accounting, agronomy and weather, management and leadership, equipment maintenance and computer technology, contract negotiation and human resources to be successful. In the corporate world, workers are well seasoned before they assume a titled leadership role. They go through management development programs to earn the experience, education and skills necessary to lead a company.
For the family farm, professional development is no less important. In fact, there’s a lot more riding on the leader’s ability. Simple mistakes can have devastating effects. Before a young person returns to the family farm, he or she must have the right foundation. Working in an off-farm occupation and learning from others is valuable experience. It is every young person’s responsibility to:
Establish the ability to grow as a member of the team, which can’t always be accomplished on the family farm. To be able to reset and re-establish working relationships, your son should satisfy certain occupational goals: excellent employee reviews, promotions, requisite licensing, project leadership, etc. He should add these measurable accomplishments to his resumé before returning to work in the family operation.
Demonstrate the ability to take initiative. Other workers will be watching your son. If it looks like he has his position by right of birth, rather than achievement, his authority will always be in question. Taking initiative is an ability learned over time and honed in the forge of accountability.
Exhibit confidence and selfregard. Confidence comes from experience, education and exposure—all of which might or might not be promoted at home. An off-farm occupation requires certain skills and abilities. It encourages continuing education through exposure to other people, circumstances and situations.
Be responsible and accountable for one’s own actions. The formality of an offfarm job will teach your son that, though he might not agree, decisions are made in the best interests of the business.
Learn to lead. Leadership is a distinction of respect that is earned. There is no better training ground than an off-farm occupation. There our son won’t receive special treatment and others won’t suspect his rank is related to his relationships.
There is no downside to working off the farm—actually, there is tremendous gain. The occupation chosen in the interim is not as important as the experience. Encourage your son to step outside his comfort zone and find a job that will give him some experience, education and learning opportunities beyond the family farm.
For help in organizing the details of a family employment policy, visit www.farmjournallegacyproject.com/employment_policy
Kevin Spafford serves as Farm Journal’s succession planning expert. His firm, Legacy by Design, guides farmers and agribusiness owners through the succession planning process. Send questions and comments to Legacy by Design, 2550 Lakewest Drive, Suite 10, Chico, CA 95928, (877) 523-7411 or firstname.lastname@example.org.