Face Personal Generational Transfer Issues Head On

Ducking issues never works in the long run.

Published on: Jan 11, 2011

Steve and Phyllis Hess write in the Young Farmer Forum column in an upcoming issue of Indiana Prairie Farmer that the generational transfer underway now with one of their sons is going so much easier because they planned for it. At the same time, this husband-and wife team of dairymen from northern Illinois realize what previous generations went though in setting up the operation so they could join and become part of the family farming business.

It's not as easy as getting out of high school and coming back to the farm, then starting to make decisions. In fact, the Hess family believes five years away from the farm before considering joining the operation, or even talking about the possibilities of a son or daughter joining the farm, is the minimum. Most of those who have been interviewed in Joy McClain's long running series 'Home Sweet Home' in Indiana Prairie Farmer either went to a four-year college or worked somewhere else for a few years before retuning home. And in almost every case, both the parent and the son or daughter who eventually came back talk about how glad they are for another perspective, and for knowledge gained away from the home farm.

Chuck Mansfield, ag professor at Vincennes University, and also a Purdue University Extension specialist, advises students all the time, up to 50 per year. He urges as many as possible to go on to Purdue or some other institution after completing their two-year degree at Vincennes. Many come to Vincennes knowing they want to go back to the farm.

"I'm not always successful," he says. "Some decide to go back after just two years. But I really see an advantage for those that either go on to school or work for someone else for a while before going back to the home farm to join the business."

The issues are numerous once someone returns, even if they're still single. And bob Taylor, Purdue Ag Econ teacher and Extension specialist, has spent 50 years telling families that unless they're careful, the potential problems only multiply once spouses enter the mix.

That doesn't mean these challenges can't be overcome. But most Young Farmer Forum panelists advise setting down and discussing the issue, whatever it is, with mom and dad, often with their spouse present, as soon as possible. No matter what the questions, it's usually the answer given most often, and by most panelists, as a piece of advice, compared to any other advice.