Great Advice from my Dad

“Don’t ever get old.” I first remember my Dad telling me that when I was maybe 5 or 6 years old. At that age all I wanted to do was to get older, bigger and be able to drive the tractor. So when he told me “Don’t ever get old,” I just shrugged it off and went about my business.

When I reached my teens, he would say “Don’t ever get old,” but it was typically after we had to fix fence on a hot August afternoon or after pulling a calf from a troubled heifer. I would look at my older brother as if to ask “what does he really mean?” He didn’t have an answer either.

After emptying a grain bin of corn one July afternoon when I was almost through high school wouldn’t you know it? He said, “Son, don’t ever get old.” So I asked him, “What does that really mean?” He stepped back, pushed his sweaty cap back on his head and gave me his explanation.

“When you are young, you think that your life will always be there for you. But what you find out is that is goes by so quickly it’s hard to keep up. You need to figure out what you’re going to do and then do it, but never miss out on what’s happening today.”

When I have the great privilege of working with farm families there can be 2 or 3 generations of family on the same farm. Generation one may still working and participating in operations. Generation two is typically shouldering the burden of decisions and planning. Generation three is just getting their feet wet in farming and renting some ground on their own and may even have a baby or two.

Generation one has experienced trials and tribulations on the farm that includes drought, crop disease, commodity prices that were embarrassing low and seemingly constant new government regulations. Their struggles and victories proved to be a badge of honor and respect from Generations two and three. But sometimes those struggles and victories cause Generation one to keep ahold of the farm operation reigns and not be prepared to transition to the next generation. If Generation one doesn’t ‘figure out what you’re going to do and then do it’ regarding retirement and turning the reins over to Generation two and three, it may cause some issues.

Sometimes the effort to make it through all of those hard times and then have the opportunity to see progress these last 5-7 years leads one to think “Don’t ever get old” and keep your hand on the decision making of the farm. This will have an impact in at least two areas.

First, without a plan to transition decision making to Generation 2 and 3, the farm (as a business) will suffer because Generation one has a totally different view of the future than does Generation two or three. The decision making should transition if there is to be healthy operations for the future. The hopes and dreams of Generation two and three need to be in the forefront of the business decisions as their timeline can be very different than Generation one.

Second, if Generation three is looking towards the future and has a desire for ownership in the operation, land or livestock, they are asking themselves “Do I have a future here?” Generation three’s youthful exuberance and energy should be channeled towards the farm’s best interest. It is their turn to “Don’t ever get old.”

There are, of course, additional issues that include tax implications for Generation one, but that is for another column…in the meantime if you are Generation one, seek out guidance now from your CPA about those tax implications, if you already haven’t done so!

Obviously we are always growing older, but the direction my Dad gave to me all of those years ago still holds true, "You need to figure out what you're going to do and then do it, but never miss out on what's happening today."

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