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Michigan Farm Bureau Family of Companies

The forgotten farm risk

Grandpa ran the farm his way — and you can run it your way if you don’t lose the place first.
Date Posted: January 10, 2024

When Thomas Jefferson said, “Agriculture is our wisest pursuit because it will, in the end, contribute most to real wealth, good morals, and happiness,” he clearly wasn’t thinking about the unhappiness of succession planning!

I often wonder what people really hear when the topic comes up. It must be scary for those uncomfortable with their own mortality:

My kids are planning my funeral!

Don’t throw me in the hole and kick the dirt on me yet!

Farmers normally have well-laid plans for their fields one to three years out — sometimes longer — so why do many turn a blind eye to succession planning? 

Here are four potential rationales behind the avoidance of succession planning:

  • Alpha — Dad and/or grandad has been the “alpha dog” for 40-50 years; how do you take that status away from him? It’s not easy for the top dog to let go and hand over decision-making control. Passing on that authority doesn’t necessarily mean he doesn’t trust the next generation, but it’s hard learning new tricks — or even how to relax. 
  • Denial — Some of the folks who most need to read this won’t because they think, “Well that’ll never happen on our farm” — ‘that’ meaning court battles, unexpected deaths and countless other ugly scenarios. Sorry, but you are not that special. These things happen every day, so suck it up and get it done!
  • Metathesiophobia means fear of change and the unknown. Many of us don’t like change, but it’s inevitable. As humans, we get accustomed to comfort: our favorite chairs, pillows, blankets, even our jobs. But too much comfort can lead to stagnation, and ignoring a leadership change is like ignoring the changing seasons. Farmers anticipate and prepare for each season: No planning means no crops, and lacking a succession plan can end your family farm.
  • Harmony — Perhaps most importantly, consider the potential disruption of family harmony. A smart plan elevates the most qualified person into the leadership role. To avoid fairness quarrels between siblings, farm businesses are often divided equally among the closest surviving relatives. Often these successors tend to be the sons, but dads shouldn’t assume who is or isn’t interested in stepping up — daughters can farm just as well, and long-term, trusted employees shouldn’t be overlooked either.

Family-run farms often put their business matters out in left field. Failing to address those issues, though, can mean financial disaster or even losing the place altogether.

Farmers manage risks every day: buying inputs, selling crops, regulatory compliance, finances and even unpredictable Mother Nature herself. 

Succession planning is a vital component of risk management, and one generation’s plan won’t always work for the next. 

Change is inevitable, but it’s yours to manage, so make an appointment with a succession planner, have the uncomfortable discussions and complete your plan. Then you can get back to your happy place: the tractor.

Stacey Cary-Jenkins excels at pretty much everything she puts her mind to on behalf of the Gratiot County Farm Bureau: membership, communications, outreach, you name it.

Learn all about succession planning at MFB's upcoming Take Root Conference.

Portrait of MFB Member Communications Specialist Jeremy Nagel.

Jeremy Nagel

Member Communications Specialist
517-323-6885 [email protected]