Why Ag Economists Don't Like The Word 'Fair'

It's hard to describe a number to an abstract term.

Published on: Mar 28, 2012

Former Purdue University ag economist Howard Doster would interrupt anyone who mentioned the word 'fair' in a sentence in an answer or discussion about anything to do with ag economics of farm management. Doster insisted there was no such thing as 'fair.'

Recently, it became clear why he said that. A farmer with three children, but only one working into the farm, was asked about estate planning. Like most other people, he hasn't got around to it yet.

"It's an easy thing to put off, even though you need to do it," notes Alan Miller, a Purdue Extension ag economist. He notes that families have attended the Farm and Family Working Together workshop up to three times over a 10-year period, and still not come up with a succession plan. One of the topics dealt with at that session each year in January is succession planning.

Why Ag Economists Dont Like The Word Fair
Why Ag Economists Don't Like The Word 'Fair'

Miller says he believes the time is right for Purdue to do as much as possible to encourage families to develop estate management and succession plans. Agriculture today involves huge dollar amounts, and things can be complicated if someone dies unexpectedly without a plan.

This particular farmer with the three children made an astute observation. "Equal doesn't always mean fair. When I do develop a plan, the important thing will be to make sure that my son who has helped build up the operation will be compensated accordingly."

Many people struggle over how to do that and not create tension in the family. It's one reason why the task is often postponed, Miller believes. There are tools to use to achieve it. The biggest thing, most attorneys say, is for parents to be upfront with all their children, not just those involved in the farm, so that everybody knows what to expect, and why things are being set up as they are. That can go a long way toward defusing potentially harmful family situations down the road.