Farm Transition Planning: 19 Ways to Change Your Mindset

By Elaine Froese

Long harvest hours give you time to think about what is working on your farm and what needs to be tweaked. Our thoughts drive our actions. It’s time to check your mindset to consider how you can create more certainty for yourself as the owner, and the next generation who wants a piece of equity along with certainty for their future. This mindset shifts will put you in the right frame of mind for successful farm transition planning.

Secrets of Successful Farm Transition Planning 

When it comes to farm transition planning, sometimes our attitudes and beliefs hold us back. By examining old ideas in a new light, you just might find the breakthrough that will lead you to a successful plan that leaves both you as owner and the next generation satisfied. It takes a mindset shift, so I am sharing 19 ways you can get started.

1. Be Curious

Approach conversations with a desire to find out what the common interest is for you and the next generation. You likely all want a profitable farm, harmonious working relationships, and a clear direction for the growth of the business. Ask, “I am just curious—what is it we all want?”

2. Stop Judging

Adopt a learner mindset and ask, “What am I responsible for?”

3. Embrace Good Choices

We all get to choose our response when pressed with tough questions. Choosing to be kind, gracious, and patient will make farm transition planning easier for all involved (including you!).

4. Talk to Advisors 

Build your team of experts to guide you. Use time on the combine/tractor/truck to talk about timelines for getting your farm transition planning done. Call your lawyer for updates on your will and power of attorney.

5. Think About Fair Exchange of Value

The Canada Ag Partnership program may have some funds available to you for financing farm transition planning or succession planning. If you still do not have a will, you are foolish. You need to pay for services to protect your family and your future well-being.

6. Be Proactive Rather Than Reactive

Communication with your farm team and your family is the first step. Don’t wait for accidents, health issues, or external threats to your business to force your hand. 

Brene Brown says, “Being clear is kind.” It’s time to explore three key things:

  • Your roles on the farm as you age. What does a good day on the farm look like to you after the harvest of 2020? What roles would you like for your spouse, business partners, and siblings?
  • What do you want to let go of? Handling the books? Crop production decisions? Debt?
  • What do you want to teach the next generation? How are you intentionally being the wise elder mentor? The successor needs a learning plan, especially understanding how to farm the numbers of the business.

7. Evaluate Income Streams 

Money is a key source of tension, and when there is not enough for basic living and debt servicing, something needs to shift. How transparent are you with all the finances, both personal and related to the farm? Why are you holding back?

8. Say Goodbye to Conflict Avoidance 

It’s high time to talk about the tough issues you have been avoiding. Third-party facilitators are a good investment to help you get clear about what needs to be resolved. They can also help model family meetings so you can do them on your own. Do you remember what it was like to own your first piece of land? Your ability to put yourself in the next generation’s shoes and have their perspective will help your conflict communication.

9. Choose Assumption-Free Living 

Love does not read minds, so quit making assumptions about what the other generation is thinking, needing, feeling, and wanting. The best way to challenge assumptions is to ask better questions with grace and kindness.

10. Share the Vision of the Farm

Farm transition planning may involve listening to the next generation about their different visions for the farm. Are you willing to accept a new way of doing things? Can growth continue with different strategies? Are you excited for the next generation to succeed? Can you accept that different is not wrong, just different?

11. Jot Down Timelines

Many folks are more productive and efficient when they have deadlines or target dates to aim for. Can you work out some dates that you will honour so planners can have timelines that are workable?

12. Be Empathetic

Farm women typically are caught as referees between their spouses and their adult children, and they are tired of that game. Seeking to truly understand the concerns of everyone on your farm team is a game-changer approach. Talk does not cook rice. It’s time to get started on your farm transition planning. 

13. Focus and Execute

Take one piece of the journey and just start making your way with small steps. You can break down the many pieces of the plan to make them more manageable and doable.

14. Communicate

Start having more conversations. Formalize them with a family meeting.  Set a date for the end of October or early November when harvest wraps up, and you’ve had a few days to rest.

15. Call Folks Who’ve Done Succession Transition Well 

You can visit with them on the phone while you wait in the truck or combine.

16. Be Outcome-Focused

Visualize what you truly want to happen. See challenges as opportunities for growth and clarity.

17. Be Kind and Practice Good Self-Care

Harvest can be hectic, but it also can have great spaces of solitude for thinking. Shut off the country music. Watch the hawks. Have a good talk with yourself.

18. Set Healthy Boundaries

Just like fence lines or survey markers, you should have boundaries too. Model a culture of respect by choosing your language and tone carefully. Have zero tolerance for profanity. You get the behaviour that you accept. 

19. Avoid Procrastination

Procrastination is killing agriculture. Way too many families are drifting with no clarity of expectations of each other or the future. If your excuse is that you are “too busy to plan,” then I am here to bust all of your excuses. The farming calendar will always be full if that is the mindset you are buying into.

Productive people are positive, communicate well, and set deadlines for action. For optimal success, break your transition tasks into small chunks and keep walking the journey. Who do you need to call today? Farm transition planning takes time and effort—it’s important to keep moving forward.

For more information on successful farm transition planning, check out my video and podcast with Tracy Brunet, called Impact Farm Marketer Transition Planning: Secrets of Success for Founders. You can listen along as you are doing work on the farm. I’m happy to keep you company on the combine!