Family Meetings Are an Essential Part of Farm Succession
Farm Business Management Update, April - May2007
By Tom Stanley (email@example.com), Extension Agent, Farm Business Management, Northwest District
The vast majority of commercial farms in Virginia are closely held family businesses. With an average age of 57 years, the primary operators of these farms in Virginia are approaching a time when their activity in farming will change. Most Shenandoah Valley farms are quickly approaching a period of transition. Will the farm continue to function as a viable business (either full-time or part-time)? Does some land need to be sold to meet retirement or long-term care needs? What are the goals of the farmland owner?
Answering these questions and successfully communicating the goals that spring from the answers is one of the greatest challenges farm families face today. Farmland owners are far more likely to realize their desires for the farm if they successfully communicate their wishes to people who can help accomplish these goals. In most cases, these people will be family members. The first family meeting can be an awkward and difficult event, but the second meeting is easier than the first, the third is easier than the second, and so on. Farm families that have regular meetings to discuss the farm business and the goals of people associated with the farm are consistently more successful.
Farmland owners are far more likely to realize their desires for the farm if they successfully communicate their wishes . . .
Family meetings can be difficult because of the issues farm families need to address. Issues related to aging, health care, and the specter of dependence and frailty are discomforting topics for most of us; yet, they will inevitably impact the farm business. Many farm families are managing multi-million-dollar asset portfolios. A management imperative is that people involved in a business together meet regularly to discuss the direction and conduct of the business. Unavoidable aspects of farm business are the health and financial needs of family members because these are the people who keep the farm going.
Issues related to aging, health care, and the specter of dependence and frailty are discomforting topics for most of us; yet, they will inevitably impact the farm business.
Some guidelines will help make family meetings successful. First, set a specific date and time to meet. Second, have an agenda of items that need to be discussed. Third meet in neutral territory, such as a conference room at a local community center, bank, or accountant’s office. Fourth, designate a note–taker to record the essence of the comments and thoughts that are shared. These guidelines may sound rigid and formal for a family, but they help assure the meeting will result in tangible accomplishments.
Virginia has a 400-year history in farming, and many of our farm families have a deep emotional attachment to their land and their sense of place. These emotions quickly come to the fore when families are facing changes in ownership. Setting goals, communicating these goals, and exploring how to accomplish these goals can secure a family’s future association with the land. The family meeting is an essential part of the farm succession process.
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