The Reluctant Farmer

I was picking up a book at my library in May when the librarian confessed that she couldn’t find garden seeds and that was okay since she preferred reading anyway, and dubbed herself “the reluctant gardener”. I smiled knowingly as I could see in my mind’s eye the quack grass having a hay day in my own yard.

I’ve also been getting a few calls from the fallout of “reluctant farmers”. My colleague, Shaun Haney of Real, asked me what I thought were the common pitfalls of succession planning that farmers need to avoid. (See the interview on YouTube) We talked about the lack of courage to have those starter conversations about expectations, intent (the WHY I am doing this) and the fact that many farm founders just don’t want to quit farming …ever. They are reluctant to even entertain any thoughts about letting go of land title, or making a young son a shareholder “too soon.” I was also struck by the reluctance of parents to build trust with their son’s new fiancé who was not thrilled about the demand to sign a pre-nuptial agreement.

So how does one avoid the mistakes of others and make a better plan?

First I would suggest that you figure out what you really want, and work out a united script with your spouse. Ha! The farm man wants to be on the tractor for another decade or more, and his wife really is ready to downsize with a move to a less busy locale.
“Face your fears and do it anyway” as Susan Jeffers would say. What are you really afraid of? Is it your sense of usefulness once you become the hired man again? Are you that wrapped up in your identity as a farmer, that if your name is not on the municipal land map anymore you consider yourself a nobody? What about all those promises you made to yourself to spend more time with your non-farm kids and their families? And the grandkids who want more of you close to the farm?

Are you afraid that if you start transferring land titles and some of the ownership of the home place that your next generation will get cocky and blow it all away? We have lower interest rates at the moment, and they likely are climbing as you read this. But do you not trust the years of blood, sweat and tears that you’ve invested in training the next generation to be a legacy of passion to KEEP the farm viable? Oh, and by the way, those 13 years of “cheap” labour that your 30 something son has provided needs to be compensated. You are very reluctant to open up that conversation.

How about your reluctance to admit that a small misunderstanding has simmered so long with anger that you are not sure how you are ever going to speak civilly to your brother again? Lack of forgiveness is one of the top 3 reasons why succession plans fail, people just can’t resolve conflict as mature adults, forgive past wrongs, and accept a new day or clean slate to make progress with the farm business.

I don’t have to dig deep to find examples of reluctant farmers. The word reluctant is defined as “unwilling or disinclined” as in “reluctant to leave”. My coaching clients sometimes pass away during our planning time-frame, because they are seventy, eighty or ninety-something when they decide to start having serious, and action-orientated family meetings to make transfers of land, money, and responsibility.

I understand that farmers don’t ever retire. I don’t agree that if farmers quit farming they will shortly expire. ie. die. I do strongly feel that the folks who make the transition from manager to a new role such as “being the hired man again” are happiest. Very few farm men want to stop all ties with the farm once they have let go of being the manager, or changed the names on the land title.

Here are some seeds of encouragement to change reluctance to willingness.
1. Establish what everyone on the farm team really wants.
2. Understand that “head issues” like understanding legal and tax implications may be stalling the creative process for building workable creative scenarios for change that really would work for your unique farm family. Find advisors that make common sense approaches to change work for you.
3. Be aware of your feelings and deep emotions about loss of health, friends, identity, meaning, purpose, passion, all the combined losses that tear you up when you stand in the wheat and watch it wave under the July sun.
4. Think of concrete ways that you can build trust with your spouse, son or daughter and successors. I truly believe that an intentional effort to converse with safety and respect can be the “tipping point” to moving the plans for the next generation into a reality, with deadlines that are adhered to. Ask “What would you like me to do differently?” Then shut your mouth and wait and listen for the answer. It may take some time, but as Susan Scott says “let the silence do the heavy lifting.”
5. Just keep taking the next step. I wrote a book 5 years ago, and I want to compile another one soon, but I’ve forgotten some of the steps. I just need to start the process again and ask for help. Don’t let the complexity of your situation drag you down or freeze your actions, keep taking small actions to build relational capital, trust, and load up the love tank of your family.
Paul Overstreet’s song “If I could bottle this up, I could make a million” makes me smile. He’s talking about the love of a woman and the tonic it brings. I’ve been asked many times for the magic formula to help reluctant farmers let go. There is none.

Each family is a unique blend of special personalities, hopes, dreams, and fears.

Folks all want to love and be loved. They also want to know that their work counts.

Figure out what you really want as you picnic, camp, golf, and ride the range this summer. Then let the rest of your farm team know in a respectful loving way what your intent is as you plan to release the reins of control and take “reluctant” out of your succession story script.

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
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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
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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
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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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