By Sara Wood, Vice President, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
For any business owner, planning for the future involves serious decision-making about what will happen to the business. Whether transition to a next generation family member or sale to a new owner, the process requires careful thought and planning.
For farmers, business transition or farm succession planning comes with some added layers of complexity. Most farmers live where they work, so it’s also about the family home, and in the case of a farm that’s been in the same family for multiple generations, an emotional attachment to the land and to family history can also be at play.
It’s a daunting task, making it tough to know where to start and let’s be honest – most of us are uncomfortable facing the thought of our own mortality and of handing over control of what we’ve built to someone else.
That’s why the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) has teamed up with Farm Life Financial again this year to offer a Financial Literacy and Farm Succession Planning Roadshow for farmers with seven in-person education days across southern, central and eastern Ontario, as well as a virtual session.
It’s a topic near and dear to my heart – having gone through a farm family succession process, I know firsthand how important it is, how hard it can be, and why proper planning is essential to keeping both the business going and the family together.
My husband and I farm west of Stratford near the town of Mitchell where we raise broiler chickens and grow crops. We’ve taken over the day-to-day farm operations from my parents, but my mom is still involved in the business as an advisor and helps out when my other activities, like being a Vice President with the OFA, take me away from the farm.
Our transition process started when my mom heard a presentation by a succession planning specialist in the U.S. who suggested farmers have to decide whether they are a business-first family or a family-first business. This means focusing on the future with a solid plan versus relying on tradition and assumption and hoping for the best.
Together and individually, our family met with lawyers and accountants to figure out what our long-term vision and goals were for the farm; for my parents it was about the legacy of what they had built and for us as the next generation, it was about what we wanted to accomplish.
This helped us build a solid plan that has served us well and although our son is only six, we are already thinking about what a future on the farm might look like for him – and how we might handle another transition if he decides farming isn’t where his heart lies.
For the older generation of farmers looking to retirement, start your conversations early with both your kids who want to farm and those who don’t, and have a vision of how you want to see the future of the farm and how involved you want to continue to be in decision-making. Don’t just leave things in the will and hope for the best.
The younger generation has to be willing to listen and come into the process with open ears and minds. Although you may have big plans for the future and how you want to put your stamp on the family business, you should respect that you’re taking over a legacy and the first cheque you write every year should be to the people who’ve made it possible for you to farm.
Above all, both generations have to be flexible and willing to embrace change – and a certain amount of creativity may be needed to pull it all off.
Succession plans take time, and they are emotional. As farmers, much of our identity is wrapped up in what we do and where we live, and it can be hard to think about a life that doesn’t involve running the farm.
That’s why I believe it’s important to look to transition planning specialists for help and workshops like the OFA roadshow can be a great opportunity to start thinking about the process. More information on workshop dates and locations is available at ofa.on.ca.
For more information, contact:
Director of Communications and Stakeholder Relations
Ontario Federation of Agriculture
519-821-8883 ext. 218