No Talk, No Plan, No Succession

5.6 percent of farmers want to exit the business in 10 years, but only a few have a formal succession plan.

If there are 50,000 families reading Grainews, then I wonder if 34 percent of those readers have succession planning as a high priority concern. That would be 17,000 farm families. According to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business June 2007 farm member’s opinion survey, 34 percent of respondents called “succession” a high priority issue.

This same study also found that 27 percent want to exit the agri-business in the next five years, and another 29 percent want to say goodbye in 10 years. That’s over half who are thinking about transitioning out of their farm or agri-business. Of these folks on the five-year exit plan, over half do not yet have a successor.

No successor, no talk, no plan.

Do you have someone to take over the management, labor, and ownership of your farm? That’s what succession is. Usually, with bad backs, Dad lets go of the labor first, then the management, and lastly the ownership piece.

If you have someone getting ready to become a manager and owner, then you are likely talking. In the CFIB study, 52 percent of the respondents had no plan, and 38 percent had just an informal one. (I think this informal plan is likely in the owner’s brain). Why are so few farmers making formal plans?

Here are some excuses

  1. Timing. Many say it is too early to start planning. They will keep saying this until it’s too late. As one very blunt chicken farmer told me, “We are not 20 years old anymore!!!”
  2. No time to deal with the issue. Death and taxes are inevitable. I think you smart managers spend some time planning your wills, estate, and tax liability coverage strategies. When does transition and succession planning hit the top of the “to-do list”?
  3. Can’t find adequate advice/tools to start. We always find the time and resources for what is truly important to us. Start at to find a list of advisors in your area. Talk to your farm friends who have already done succession well. Go to and explore the resources and archives. Spend $29 for a copy of Managing the Multigenerational Farm. At the site, watch me on “When letting go is hard” in the agri-webinar archives. Watch Agvision TV on Sunday afternoons or on the Internet at and sign up for the newsletters at Buy a copy of Dr. John Fast’s new book, The Family Business Doctor. There are piles of resources and tools, just a click or a call away.
  4. Too complex. You have to plan to live and not just plan to die. What does the space between age 62 and 82 look like to you? Dream a little. Saying the process is too complex is a judgment. Come from curiosity and invite the family over for a circle meeting to start talking about expectations of roles and lifestyle needs. Hire a facilitator or coach to keep the meeting process on track and safe. File your papers in a handy binder with tabs for each key advisor: legal, tax, lifestyle, etc.
  5. Don’t want to think about leaving. Ah yes, letting go is hard. So if you don’t think about it, it will not happen. This thought blocking is not a great way to have family harmony and business success. Think about what would make leaving worthwhile. What does a great day on the farm look like to you? Maybe you don’t have to physically leave, you just need to change lanes and have a new role. Maybe you need to take some time to test out new business ideas. The CFIB study found many founders were planning to leave and start another new business!
  6. Conflict with family/employees. Family and workers may be one and the same. Conflict is a normal part of life. Avoiding conflict is death. Taking on some new skills to manage conflict is a smart business risk management strategy.

How are you sleeping?

One of the gaps in the CFIB study was the unanswered question: “What are the factors that motivate small and medium-sized enterprise owners to plan for succession?” That’s a question I would like your feedback on for future articles. You can go to and click on the link to send me your answer.

My guess is that each person has his or her own reason or motivation for change. Fear is one, but fear is not a great motivator as it tends to have negative implications. But if you can embrace your fear and do the planning anyway, you have begun the journey of 1,000 succession steps by taking the first step. Anger is fear’s cousin. Are you hurt, afraid or just plain frustrated?

Stress relief is another motivator. I like to get a good night’s sleep. And I sleep better when I’m not stressed. My motivation for action is to decrease my stress and have things taken care of. I will use the outside advice of professionals, and I communicate with the rest of the farm team. How are you sleeping?

Are you talking?

Building relational capital is the key to family harmony and profitable farm business. One of David Kohl’s Virginia Tech graduate students studied 400 farms across six states and found that the farm teams that had great communication — they talked with each other — were 21 percent more profitable than the teams that didn’t have a great way to share visions, intent, and goals.

You may now be motivated to take the bull by the horns and make the calls to the advisors you trust to start the succession process. A family is like a mobile, and if you start to change, then you are going to shake the rest of the clan’s balance…and the chaos will be okay if everyone works hard to communicate their true values and beliefs.

In the end, you will take joy in seeing your adult children having certainty about their future. This is another motivator. For one family, they decided not to pass along the farm, but to sell it. They had other income streams, and the adult children could use the money from their “pre-inheritance”. The parents were delighted to be alive and hear the thanks, and see the results of the wealth they had generated. The farming son paid mortgages to his sisters.

The great motivator

Some people have no intention — or at least, no motivation — to put plans in place before they leave this earth. And because these people are not doing any planning, the kids get frustrated. A day will come when the farming adult children wake up and say “that’s enough. Something changes here, or we are gone.” I hear these stories often. Ultimatums are not great tools for planning with a spirit of generosity and flexibility. Tough love is the last resort. Face your mortality, have conversations, and make plans. Save taxes. Build relational capital. That’s the legacy you really want.

Elaine Froese is a catalyst for courageous conversations with farm families in transition. She speaks across Canada and the US to give practical tools for talking about tough issues. She’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving with her family at the farm near Boissevain.

Fixing Your Time Stress Mess

60 minutes

Workaholics will discover helpful strategies for managing their time stress. Gain understanding for the tensions of your age and stage on the farm. Learn why some problems are not solvable, but just need to be managed as polarities. Self-renewing people are joyful and productive producers.


Rave reviews

“A joy to work with, heard loud and clear. When the farmers laughed or asked a great question, I knew they were listening and really wanted to learn from her. Her tips were easy to understand. It was just about understanding that conflict happens, and to have the confidence in yourself to ask for what you want. In the glowing review from farmers after her presentation, I knew they had heard that loud and clear.”
Maddy Berner, Event Planner & Communications Coordinator, National Milk Producers Federation National Milk Producers Federation
“I wanted to say a HUGE thank you for your virtual kitchen table chat with Arlan Academy. My wife and I signed up as it was exceptionally relevant to our current journey with potentially transitioning to her parents’ farm. The session was able to cover so many aspects of these crucial conversations and hearing you speak to both sides of the conversation was eye opening for my own perspective on this topic. It seemed to be very well attended and sounded like there were many other people who would echo my thoughts and feelings on it.”
N. Oakley, Farmer, Ontario
“Elaine helped me allocate $1 Million of assets the night I listened to her. Elaine’s presentation brings value to the use of my services in my office.”
Don Forbes, Forbes Wealth Management
“I recently joined in and listened to your Healthy Farmer Agriwebinar for FMC. I truly enjoyed hearing your perspective and even went and grabbed my Mom, away from her work, to come and listen in on some of your main points as well! One area that really stood out for me, both personally with our own succession plans and with our clients, was your discussion involving "Instant Influence" and how ready are you to change? I loved this concept!”
Annessa Good, FCC Transition Specialist, Alberta
“Elaine Froese truly is the Farm Whisperer. With her big heart and stern resolve, she guides families through uncharted waters and helps them arrive safely at their desired destination. She has been there, done that, and has helped hundreds of families come out on the other side. With your family and your farm legacy on the line, you owe it to yourself to start this conversation. You do not need to do it alone. Let Elaine Froese guide you through. Your legacy is being written day by day. How will you be remembered?”
Tracy Brunet, Host of The Impact Farming Show & CEO of Farm Marketer
“You speak like you’ve been sitting at our kitchen table! You know our family issues well. I am feeling more comfortable understanding what we now need to do. Elaine Froese is real.”
Audience Member,
“I attended the meeting you spoke at in Stratford Ontario recently. We held an emergency family/farm meeting today because of issues that I had enough of. We used a 'talking stick' like you recommended and wrote a chart of rules. The rest of the family thought the idea that we needed a meeting was worth rolling their eyes over, until we got started. The younger ones were quick to clue in that they now have an opportunity to be bluntly honest. The older ones took a bit longer to believe they could truly say what they think. In the end, the meeting needed two sessions because there was so much to talk about… and so many things people didn't realize were a big deal to the others. Your lessons and encouragement have given us the tools we need to get to a better place in our relationships and our business. Truly thankful.”
Kim Martin, Dairy Farmer, Ontario
“Helped me develop my framework to start having constructive and meaningful conversations around the farm.”
Tennille Wakefield, Farm Partner
“Some great lessons, Elaine! You continue to do some remarkable and potentially life-changing work.”
James Mitchell, Principal, Conversations Consulting
“Our family had a good farm meeting yesterday afternoon. Your Fairness video was a great topic of discussion. One of the action items after the meeting was to have my two non-farming siblings watch the video before the next big meeting they are involved with on the farm. It will be a great conversation starter as we catch them up on our current plan. As they are younger, we also hope it will help them to ask new questions that may not have been on their mind.”
G.G., Farm Family Legacy Coach, Alberta
“Elaine gives me excellent tools that help me work with my clients!”
Laurianne Osmack, Financial Planner / Partner, Doell Osmak Wealth Management
“She has a sense of “knowing” quickly what is happening in the family dynamic. Her messages to her audiences drive home what needs to be done next to solve the complex issues of farm transition and conflict resolution.”
Audience Member,
“Eye-opening. Excited to open the door of communication with my spouse and farm family.”
Ashley Hoppe, Farm Partner
“The Strong Farms, Strong Families session gave farm families an opportunity to meet face to face with Elaine Froese... hear her own story, experiences and skill set. From this information packed session and related materials, families could identify areas of success in their journey and other places they need assistance. The greatest take away was that participants could see that Elaine Froese is someone they can trust with the things that they hold most precious.... their family and their farm.”
Nancy Atkinson, Nobleford Ag Society, Alberta
“Elaine’s real-life scenarios help her audiences know they are not alone, knowing there are creative solutions to help them get the life on the farm they have always wanted.”
Audience Member,
“A long time female client who had refined the art of procrastination was so moved by the end of your presentation that she accepted your permission to “drop the bananas.” She contacted me soon after for an appointment to do some planning which included the selling of the family “Century Farm.” A very, very emotional decision on her part that was not likely to have occurred without your presentation.”
Don Forbes, Forbes Wealthy Management
“I just have to say… that your work is amazing and I have never forgotten your teachings from our session in Williams Lake at TRU. It is super important work. I know so many people going through the trauma of succession. I hate to use that word, but I was an “out-law” and know it can get terrible. I continue to forward your emails on to others. Keep doing what you do! You are amazing. You kind of walk into the fire regularly… and with a smile. Proud to have met you.”
Megan, BC Rancher
“As my husband and I eagerly started the course we were optimistic and excited to be taking this next step in our Farm Transition. We were starting to question ourselves and whether or not we were just being selfish and greedy, and if this Farm Transition was still an option for us. We barely got through the first Module and were already having such a huge relief. As we moved through the modulus there were so many times that we just sat back with our hands in the air and thought YES. My husband and I would smile with relief because all of the concerns that we have been struggling with were relevant and came up in the modules. We really enjoyed the course and are excited to move on to the next stages to find our farm resolution.”
Shannon Gilchrist, “Get Farm Transition Unstuck” online course participant
“My hubby farms with 2 brothers and parents, and it’s become a really toxic place. No communication, no respect, etc. Twelve months ago, my husband’s brothers told him they don’t want to work with him anymore and offered him a pay out. His parents did nothing to stop it! He had no choice but to leave. Three months later, we moved off the farm and into town. He has been offered heaps of jobs and is now truck driving and carting hay and grain. We have tried communicating with his parents about what happened but they are not interested. So basically my hubby has lost his family. Very sad but we as husband and wife are overall in a good place and moving on to create our own life. Please continue on with all your wonderful work in helping families on the farm. I continue to tell any farmers I know about you, that they must ‘google’ you, and read your books.”
Donna, Farmer, Australia

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