Look Homeward, Farmer: Steps to Take Before Returning to the Family Farm

Look Homeward, Farmer: Steps to Take Before Returning to the Family Farm

Transitioning a farm from one generation to the next has been challenging for a variety of reasons since the profession started. But farms that fail to plan for the future often fail in a variety of ways.

To help make that transition from the current generation to the next a bit easier, the Washington state Farm Bureau is working with a new program called Coming Home to Farm, to promote an open and honest dialog about the changing of the guard.

Andy Junkin, founder of Coming Home to Farm, says one of the biggest problems he sees is the misconception many have that working with family will be struggle free.

“Here the parents have spent their entire lives building up a farm for their kids, and when the son or daughter graduates from college, or they’re just coming home from a career, in general, the parents are really proud of who their kids are and they just can’t anticipate any problems, but the only thing that you can predict is that you will at some point have problems. Like nobody gets married thinking that they’ll get divorced.” 

Junkin says Coming Home to Farm encourages both generations to listen to each other and promotes and honest line of communication.

Caleb Gwerder with the Washington Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers and Ranchers program says young people may perceive their parents as an obstacle when trying to get into production farming, when that older generation is actually an ally.

“They’ve had the experience and have worked through so many problems in their lifetime that the younger generation needs to realize that getting along with your parents is important and starting those conversations and getting everyone on the same page to see eye to eye and be receptive to new ideas or new conversations on what to do with the farm, your family is your ally so you really need to work with them in order to be successful.” 

Junkin added medical advances have made the issue of succession and communication more pronounced and sometime more difficult.

He noted that in years past farmers typically retired in their 60s. But now, farmers can remain on the production side into the 80s or even 90s, which has created stresses not imagined just a generation ago.

“We’ve got three or four generations farming together, and suddenly instead of having one dictator we have multiple dictators, and we have everybody butting heads and pulling the farm in different directions.  As a result, half of the decisions that should be getting made are not getting made adequately, and there’s a lot of money slipping through the cracks as well as there are a lot of frustrations that’s causing a lot of mental health problems.” 

Washington Farm Bureau and Coming Home to Farm offer a succession planning course to help farm families tackle the issue.