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When You Inherit the Farm from Your Children

Like many of you, I too grew up on a farm, albeit in the Netherlands. To this day, I am more likely to refer to myself as a farm kid (who happens to work in agricultural research and extension) rather than as a scientist (who happens to work in agriculture).  Like many of you, our farm operation was multi-generational; while my grandfather was still very much involved in the day-to-day operations, a pint-size version of me was already helping with feeding calves, thinning beets, or pulling wild oats by hand. It must have been during those early years that this sense of obligation/duty to the farm developed.  The best way I can describe that sense is to argue that you do not inherit the farm from your parents but from your children. I only say this to illustrate that while your parents, like mine, may have actively tried to dissuade you from entering the operation, you decided to farm anyway.

My parents succeeded. I did not take over the farm right after I finished my Ph.D. in 1995.  At the time, there were 1001 rational arguments and reasons why the job I still have today was by far the better choice. Yet it was probably not until just this fall that I was happy not to be farming. Notwithstanding all the logic and cold hard calculations, I felt like I had not kept my promise to the farm.

These are financially very trying times. This year’s market outlook was not good to begin with.  A very wet spring added insult to injury and then was outdone by a nightmarishly wet fall and harvest.
In many parts of the economy, failure is as much part of the business as is success. During the turn of the century, about 26% of independently owned restaurants failed during their first year of operation and after 3 years, about 59% of those restaurants had failed (source: H.G. Parsa et al. 2005. Why Restaurants Fall).  Success rates in construction and transportation businesses are not much different (source: Small Business Administration).

Keeping the farm going indefinitely and across multiple generations is not a foregone conclusion. Hard work, marketing savviness, optimism that next year will be better, and fingerspitzengef├╝hl (I will let you look that up in Google) are not always enough.

The decision to walk away from the farm is not one of letting your kids down.   Your kids will find their way and so will you, even if you are not continuing your (great) grandfather’s operation (‘the farm’).

Contact the Minnesota Farm and Rural Helpline at 833-600-2670 x 1 if you recognize yourself in this story and would like to talk confidentially about it with someone else. The call center is located in Minnesota and trained staff and volunteers answer calls. Additional resources U of M resources can be found here.

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  1. Thank you for a very thoughtful and well stated post, Jochum.


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