It’s A Family Thing

The heart and soul of the American farm is the farm family. Probably no other industry in the United States is so grounded in the family structure as farming. The farm family structure provides the strength but also produces a potential weakness of any operation or farm ownership. There is a fine, but very definite, line that separates a family structure that provides a strength or a weakness for that operation.

Family Culture

Think of the culture of your farm family. Yes, your family farm operation (or maybe it’s no longer operating as an active farm but as an ownership of farmland) has a culture. Because it’s a family, there are years and generations of memories and ‘norms’ that have been created out of day-to-day activities creating your farm family culture. Some memories are good while some may not be so good. Is your farm culture helping you (a strength) or limiting you (weakness)? It’s a big question that has significant consequences for you personally and financially.

Write It Down

I would imagine that none of your culture has been captured by the written word. Big and small companies write down their operating rules and guidelines to help establish a path for each employee that describes responsibilities and expectations. Farm operations typically have not invested the time to write down the farm operation guidelines. These written guidelines establish how things get done the right way. Take a look at an article from the October 8, 2019 Harvard Business Review by Karen Niovitch Davis. She provides perspective for the downside for a company that doesn’t write down expectations and procedures and how the written word can realign people’s perspectives.

Include Everyone

Ownership of a farm operation or farmland by a family structure includes years of personal history. Emotion, confusion and frustration from years past can cause a weakness in today’s decision making by the family. Today’s farm decisions (buying, selling, operating, etc.) are so financially impactful for everyone involved any lingering or festering animosity towards others in ownership should be addressed. When everyone in the family ownership invests time to write down how decisions should be made, what’s important and how the business should be operated, it’s a significant step towards strengthening the farm business.

Take the First Step

It may be that not everyone is on board with the effort needed to get the business plans written down. So why don’t you take the first step? Start small. One person writing down the plans for a small part of the business to share with others, is a start. If you can be successful in a small initiative that has a positive affect on everyone you may just have introduced the spark that leads to the expansion of the effort and could ultimately reshape the way your family works together.

Michael L Gustafson is a Principal with Farmers First Trust helping farmers preserve the value of their farm. Send your thoughts to Mike at

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