As I sat down to write my last column, I thought awhile about what topic I should write about, when it occurred to me. I began by writing about women in agriculture and transition planning, and I suddenly thought I should go out writing about those topics tied together.
Transition planning is as important as ever, as we bring a new generation, including both sons and daughters, into the farm business.
It was once a given that the son, no matter where they fell in the birth order, would be the one or ones who would carry on the family farming business. That’s not to say that in years gone by there weren’t instances that the daughter became the farmer, but it certainly was more the norm that the son was presented with the opportunity.
Today, that is becoming less and less the case, as more daughters are stepping into farming roles that require more than just looking the part of the farmer’s daughter we hear about in country songs.
Farming has seen many changes and advancements in technology that has allowed and even encouraged more daughters to think about returning to a business that was once thought of as a ‘man’s business.’
Technology has changed some of the physical aspects of the job, creating a chance for women who may not possess the same physical stature of men to be able to do the job just as well.
There is also a strong business management side of farming that has been a very good fit for many women. Women have filled the role of bookkeeper and bill payer for many years, and are now branching out to include other management roles such as marketing, accounting, tax planning, human resource management, etc.
As farms become larger businesses, women have filled some of these very specialized roles on their family farms.
As daughters and sons begin to think about joining the family business, it’s important for transition planning to happen. One of the most important pieces is defining the roles each person will be assuming. These roles may be new positions on the farm or may be roles left behind by someone who has retired.
Either way, written position descriptions can be a very helpful tool for all to understand what the expectations and responsibilities of each position are.
Individual skills. Along with defining roles, matching the right person with the right job will help lead you to success.
Everyone brings different skills and strengths to the farm. Determining where those skill sets will give the most benefit to the farm can help with bottom line profitability as well as career satisfaction for all generations involved.
Just because a daughter returns to the farm does not mean she has the skill set or desire to handle the accounting and record keeping responsibilities. She may be better suited to work with the animals or crop production. It’s important to take time to assess skills and not just assign jobs based on gender.
Understanding how decisions will be made is another important discussion to have as transitions begin to happen within a farm business.
The new generation, no matter whether they are male or female, will be coming in with new and exciting ideas and technologies they want to try. Communication within the family business will be crucial.
The senior generation will need to be willing to listen and sort out pros and cons of new ideas and the junior generation will need to have the explanations and well thought-out plans to go along with their ideas.
Both generations will need to have patience and an open mind and be ready to compromise in order to keep this farm business moving in a positive direction.
As I write this last paragraph, I will take the opportunity one more time to say, no matter how strong a business plan and production record a family farm has, communication among family members and non-family employees is a critical factor in the farm’s success.
It affects every aspect of the farm, from production to safety to marketing to purchasing to transitioning, but most importantly it affects the family relations mixed up in this wonderful business of farming!
(Julia Nolan Woodruff is an OSU extension educator in Erie County. This will be her final column in that role, as she has accepted a position with Ag Credit.)