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Virginia Cooperative Extension -
 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Developing the Next Generation Manager

Farm Business Management Update, February 2008 - March 2008

Bill Whittle (, Extension Agent, Farm Business Management, Page County

Most farmers dream of passing the legacy of a successful farm to their children, allowing them to earn a decent living and raise a family. For this dream to become a reality, the successful transfer of the farm to the next generation should be treated as a multifaceted event that requires planning. A lynchpin of that successful future is a Nex-Genner (i.e. Next Generation) who is adequately prepared to be manager. Good managers are not born but develop through good training or, more often than not, by trail and error. Historically, this Nex-Genner is knowledgeable and capable in production farming, but ill-prepared as a financial manager, personnel director, marketing agent bookkeeper, and time manager.

The lack of managerial skill development in a Nex-Genner is often caused by a lack of dedication on the part of the current manager to develop a training program that encompasses all of the needed skills, or because the Nex-Genner focuses on production rather than other managerial skills. The potential manager doesn’t learn how each component helps create a successful operation and is not equipped to make important decisions while dealing with the day to day activities that can demand so much attention.

The question then becomes how to train the next generation to be a complete manager. Formalized programs such as 4-H, FFA, Young Farmers, and college are great teaching arenas but none teach all management skills. Unless you intend for the Nex-Genner to rely on the trial and error method, it is up to the current manager to devise a training program that will lead to success. The first step is for the current manager to critically rate his own skills in each managerial area and to rate his ability to teach those skills. Next, determine what the formalized programs bring to the table and how your Nex-Genner will use them. Step three is to then develop a training program integrating the components that will give your Nex-Genner the best chance for future success.

Most youngsters are unsure of what they want to do for the rest of their lives, so it may be best to provide multiple and varied opportunities for the Nex-Genner to explore whether they want to farm or not. The production skills are always the fun part, but they need to be exposed to all aspects of production; how to do a job, why the job is being done, and the consequences of a poor job. Show your Nex-Genner the financial records; how they are kept, why you keep them, and how you use them to manage the farm. If you fail to expose the kids to the financial picture, they will never have a true understanding of what is necessary to keep your farm successful and prosperous. Assist them in developing a relationship with your management team: your lender, the Farm Service Agency, Extension, and others you regularly work with. They should go to the equipment dealer, not to kick the tires, but to see how financing of equipment actually works.

A final component of your training program is to get your manager trainee off your farm and into a different farming situation for six months to a year where they can be exposed to different ideas, methods of farming, and management styles. The time spent as a hired hand on another farm will either reinforce or eliminate their desire to farm the home place.

The final step in developing a manager is to assign some responsibility when the training program is successfully completed. It should be noted that a training program that lasts forever is a sure way to lose your Nex-Genner.


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