Farming’s In-Law Factor: How to Have More Harmony and Less Conflict on Family Farms

By Elaine Froese and Dr. Megan McKenzie, comments by editor Tracy Tjaden in AgAdvance Journal

In business journalism, like in life, there are some stories that never go away.

Every industry has its issues. Sometimes these issues reach a boiling point, wreaking havoc across the sector and leaving a trail of carnage — but ultimately, inspiring great and innovative outside-the-box thinking. The problem is solved.

Then, you have the issues that do not get better no matter how much money or love or determination is thrown at them (think: Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, urban sprawl or anti-smoking campaigns).

In agriculture, one such issue across most Canadian farms is the lack of succession planning.

This is an old story. Ag media have been nagging on about this issue for years, if not decades. Why? People don’t see what they don’t want to see. Denial can be like one of those fuzzy blankets you want to pull over your head.

So the problem continues — 33 percent of the respondents to the 2015 Canadian Agricultural Outlook Survey conducted by Ipsos Reid said their farms were likely to change hands in the next few years, with 62 percent expecting a transfer to family members or partners.

However, just 30 percent of these farm owners had any type of formal transition plan in place, according to the survey, which was conducted on behalf of the Glacier Farm Media and RBC Agriculture.

And, the problem is not going away.

One of Western Canada’s foremost thought leaders in farm succession planning, along with conflict resolution expert, have just co-written a book on the subject called in Farming’s In-Law Factor: How to Have More Harmony and Less Conflict on Family Farms. While there has been research and writing on succession planning on farms, there has been little work done on the impact in-laws have on the dynamics in farm families. Yet, in-laws are a key part of most farms, say Froese and McKenzie. If the in-law’s contributions are not appreciated, not only does the farm lose out —often, resentment builds and puts pressure on the entire farm family relationship.

“Making conscious choices about your interactions and your relationships with your in-laws is an important part of having a vibrant farm team. The decisions we make can lead us down paths of conflict and crisis, or up mountains of success.”

When I asked Froese why such an old news story might belong in the AgAdvance Journal’s Innovation Issue, she responded: “I feel like an innovator when I am trying to get stubborn farmers to the table to work out their expectations!”

According to Froese, a certified farm family coach and mediator who has been dubbed the ‘farm whisperer’, true farm succession planning innovation lies is in how you deal with the people/personalities involved, “getting past procrastination and conflict avoidance in order to make new business plans.”

She adds, “I also think succession planning is emotionally laden with tax and estate issues, so that people block out the idea of transition in the first place.”

Blocking out the things in life we don’t want to deal with might work…for a period of time. But for the one-third of farm families in the Ipsos Reid study — and the countless more they represent — that time is now.
Don’t forget to read the current issue of Agri Digest Online. Click beside the picture of the cover (above this blog if you are already on our website, at http://www.agridigest.com if you are on one of our social media sites).

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