Facing Succession Planning Can Be Stressful

Conflict is natural when change is essential; K-State's Ag Mediation Services can help farm families cope.

Published on: Nov 4, 2013

Farming is a generational business in Kansas and across the country and most farmers have some experience – good or bad – with the way the transition for one generation to the next is handled.

At a Kansas Rural Center sponsored conference on Nov. 2, a panel of experts on managing the inevitable conflicts of making that transition offered words of wisdom to Kansas families facing the process.

Duane Hund, a farm analyst, Barry Carroll, ag mediator and Karen MdIllvan, attorney, all part of the Kansas State University Ag Mediation Services, shared ideas and explained the kind of help offered by the KSU program.

Hund said that conflict is a natural part of life and should be confronted head-on as an opportunity to learn and grow.

Farm analyst Duane Hund says there are three perspectives that must be addressed in conflict resolution, he said. First is identity: Who am I? Who do I want to be? The second is emotion: How do I feel? How do I manage and the third is power: What can I control?
Farm analyst Duane Hund says there are three perspectives that must be addressed in conflict resolution, he said. First is identity: Who am I? Who do I want to be? The second is emotion: How do I feel? How do I manage and the third is power: What can I control?

"I have a long-standing motto that I have followed," Hund told the group. "If two people in a partnership always agree on everything, one of them isn't necessary."

Hund understands farming. His family farm spans both sides of Interstate-70 near Paxico and is in its fifth generation of operation.

"I have two boys who are following in my footsteps of a financial career in addition to the farm, he said. "We have been blessed with good Flint Hills grass and pasture."

Three perspectives to address in conflict resolution

There are three perspectives that must be addressed in conflict resolution, he said. First is identity: Who am I? Who do I want to be? The second is emotion: How do I feel? How do I manage and the third is power: What can I control?

Often the transfer of management between generations involves the loss of identity that the retiring parent may feel and the loss of power that comes with turning over decision-making. Or, conversely, there can be conflict arising from a parent's refusal to relinquish decision-making "veto power" and a son or daughter's frustration with not having control.

Carroll said a mediator can help families work through those conflicts constructively and reach an agreement that makes all parties happy.

"Sometimes all you have to do is start and stop conversation, just step in and make sure that everybody gets heard," he said. "Some of these are by their very nature, difficult conversations. Most of the time they occur when circumstances force a change in the status quo and there is already stress."

McIlvane said her role is to help families understand the legal tools that can help them make sure that the transition goes smoothly and that the wishes of the retiring farmer are carried out.

For more details on the advice offered by the trio and the services of the Ag Mediation Service, be sure to watch for your December Kansas Farmer magazine.