Siblings farming together can make for many different, interesting, and somewhat challenging dynamics, especially if one of them is a brother. Here are some of the most common issues that can arise with farming brothers and how founding farmers and siblings can handle them.
11 Common Issues Amongst Farming Siblings
1. Oldest Brother Syndrome
Birth order has been very well researched by Dr. Kevin Leman. Seek out his work for the different traits of first-born sons. My coaching experience tells me that some founders automatically default choosing the oldest son as successor which may not be a great idea if the younger sons or daughters have better skill sets for managing and leadership.
Match the skill sets and passions to the jobs required on your farm. Hire out for gaps in skills that are missing.
2. Gender Bias
I know a farm family where the daughter is the main manager and her brother is a skilled mechanic who does not like to manage people. Where is it written that the brother needs to be the manager just because he does not take time off to birth babies?
The farming daughter needs to look for help in child care options. Her brother needs to learn more management skills to make their team stronger.
3. Work Ethic
“My brother likes to quit early, even when there is more work to be done.”
This is a very common complaint from those guys who work 70% harder than their farming brothers. This is likely a case of conflict avoidance where I would ask the brothers to track their time, so they have something that they can measure and discuss. The other side of this is the workaholic brother who never wants to spend time with family, yet you do.
Work/life balance is a polarity, a problem that never goes away and will always need to be managed. Make sure your spouse is aligned with your work value system, and the two of you are not feeling short-changed.
4. Family Stages Vary
One brother is 15 years older and his kids are a lot further ahead than their cousins. You cannot “catch up” for the different stages and ages of the kids.
What you can do is figure out how the aging brother needs something different in terms of time and compensation than the younger brother. Older brothers resent young brothers who do not take responsibility for their actions. You might need to be patient to give your brother some maturing time.
5. Family Living Costs Vary
What is the combined family income of you and your off-farm income spouse? And your brother and his non-employed wife? This inequality of family income stream is not a problem to be fixed by the farm cash flow. This is a hot potato for discussion as to what roles on the farm are to be paid for. Some farm brothers expect all spouses to contribute labour (unpaid in some cases). Your spouse may have no interest in the farm, so she stays out of all things “farm”.
If you have an operating agreement which includes the income splitting percentages for your farm partnership, then you have a code of conduct to follow. If financial management is not healthy within the marriage, then it behooves the spouses to address the problem together and create solutions. Track your family living expenses so that you are aware and find ways to meet your farm cash flow demands properly. Talk about your resentment or frustrations openly as the farm cash flow has limits, (or does it?).
6. Relationship Status Vary
One brother is single, a bachelor. What are his plans for his personal land, and his estate? Is it rude to ask now for some future rights on purchasing his assets when he is ready to sell?
Single brothers may want to continue ownership of land as landlords. What written agreements could be put in place in order to give nephews and nieces an opportunity to buy an uncle’s equity? Does the bachelor have a legal written will, and who is his executor?
7. Divorce has Derailed my Brother
Long-term farming brothers have transition plans destroyed when divorce causes a financial strain on one brother’s family and the entire farm cash flow. Former spouses who leave the farm team with frustration have moved on, and you will need to let go of the “what if” thinking and make plans for the new scenario.
The huge cost of divorce may impede the divorced brother from following his original transition plan. He may need to work for another decade or more to recoup some of his financial setbacks.
8. My Brother is a Spender
“My brother loves new iron, and I am more cautious and conservative.”
Different financial management styles may have worked well when you were building up the farm over the last 20 years, but now a new perspective arrives with the energy and risk embracing next generation. How transparent are you with your financial situation to all generations on your farm team?
Learn to collaborate your decision making or create an exit plan to have separate enterprises that each brother manages on their own. What does the written business plan predict?
9. Destructive Patterns are Ruining Our Relationship
Drug and/or alcohol abuse are examples where substance abuse is ruining the ability of the players to make sound decisions for the farm. Be strong and get help. It is not a sign of weakness to go to the doctor for a physical yearly, or to ask for a referral to an addictions counselor.
The years of enabling bad behaviour are now over. Take a stand for what is emotionally, spiritually, and physically healthy. Get the right professionals involved in treatment.
10. My Brother Does Not Love Me
Seek healing for your emotional well being. You cannot force other people to treat you well if they choose otherwise. You are responsible for your behaviour and feelings. Consider seeing a counselor.
11. I Like Grain, My Brother Likes Cows
If there are different interest amongst farming siblings, it may be time to consider starting separate enterprises. What are the steps you need to take to start this process?
Take the time to talk with your brother and founding farmers about the possibility and begin the process by writing up a business plan.
What would the farm look like without sibling conflict? Working on these issues is the first step to a smooth running farm and a fair farm transition. For more great tools for smooth farm operations, sign up for the Farm Family Toolkit, here.