Legacy Project: Purposeful Planning

March 8, 2013 08:25 PM

Tips to foster a career on the family farm

For generations kids have tagged along with their parents as they worked on the farm—sometimes by choice and others times not so much. While kids do learn by osmosis, it’s important to be intentional about establishing a path so children want to grow up to be farmers, says Kevin Spafford, Farm Journal succession planning expert.

To nurture a planning culture in your children, Spafford offers the following 10 tips:

  • Talk constructively about farming, the economy, regulatory pressures, etc. It’s all right for kids to know farming is a challenging occupation; it’s not OK if everything they hear is negative.


  • Get them involved early to teach them responsibility. Farm kids have numerous opportunities to perform age-appropriate chores that have real life-and-death consequences.


  • Demonstrate the behaviors you want to teach: community service, leadership, teamwork, goal setting and a burning desire to succeed. "Kids learn more from what you do than what you say," Spafford says.

Arizona dairyman Paul Rovey is a firm believer that kids follow by example. "My father was very involved so that’s probably what put it in my DNA," he says. It’s no wonder his five children know that "involvement builds relationships and opportunities to learn and build the agricultural community," he says.

  • Encourage them to participate in 4-H and FFA. Coach them and support these activities as you might a sports team.


  • During the teenage years, visit about employment options in your farming operation and allow them to ask questions and nurture their interests in a particular path.

Today, four of Rovey’s five kids are involved in the farm operation in varying roles that cater to their strengths and interests, a process that started when they were young.

  • With older teenagers, begin discussing business matters and options for diversification.


  • Have mid-teen to young adult children help you write a family employment policy.


  • Encourage young adults to participate in feasibility studies for optional enterprises.


  • Encourage college or some form of higher education.


  • After college, enforce your family employment policy and have your child work off the farm for a period of time before coming home to farm.

Above all, don’t force your kids to return to the farm. "The whole idea was, my dad never forced me into the ranching business," says California rancher John Lacey. "I made up my mind, my wife and I. We didn’t force our kids into the ranching business either and we made that clear."

Legacy Project Tools

Tap into these succession planning resources made possible through a grant from Pioneer that supports the Farm Journal Legacy Project:

Comprehensive Website

  • More than 20 succession planning tools
  • Case studies
  • Legacy workbook
  • Annual Legacy report
  • Three seasons of "Legacy TV"
  • Legacy workshop schedule and registration

Check out the website www.farmjournallegacyproject.com

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Recommended Reading

All family businesses go through stages. John Ward’s book "Perpetuating the Family Business" walks through the three common phases of a family business: the owner-managed business, the sibling partnership and the cousin collaboration. A framework of five insights and four principles are defined using 50 lessons that show how successful families position themselves to devise effective responses to the challenges they face. 

You can e-mail Katie Humphreys at khumphreys@farmjournal.com.

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