Hang on to Hope - Elaine Froese | Canada’s Farm Whisperer | Your go-to expert for farm families who want better communication and conflict resolution to secure a successful farm transition

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Hang on to Hope

by | May 7, 2013 | Uncategorized

“This meeting gave me hope that the process of succession planning does not have to be a painful experience” a farmer wrote on his feedback sheet after I had spent 90 minutes passionately explaining the emotional factors affecting farm family communication in business transfers.

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick” says Proverbs. I am writing this on the plane home from the Peace River region where BC Grain Producers in Dawson Creek and two farm families near Spirit River and the Alberta Peace Region gave me great hope that some families do get things right.

The Peace River region had a bad 2010 drought, and for some it was the third one too close to the last one. The folks who invited me to conduct family meetings with their successor son were pleased that their accountant also took the time to meet me and share his expertise in activating the details of the dreams and hopes for the farm to continue to be successful.

The “mom” said she was very glad she was moving to a new home, and the daughter-in-law was glad that a time-line was now in place to start packing up her modest home in order to become the key woman on the main yard.

Hoping that things are going to get better is one place to start, it is a mindset to look for positive choices and options to evoke more informed decision making.

The conversations about the move of the parents started in earnest last fall.  The seeds of ideas were planted in fertile minds, but the germination only took root when calls were made to the county about subdivision, taxes, farm deductions, and architects. Once the decision was seen to be the “right thing to do”, Dad really got on board and looked at financing the new home. He also thought about the role he still wants in being able to access his beloved shop on the main yard, and what privacy boundaries he will be glad to give his daughter-in-law in the main farm house that will no longer be “Dad’s”.

Moving is an example of a life change that takes some time to process, and takes a positive attitude to fulfill. The residence issue is a huge “undiscussabull™” in many farm families, and sometimes is left way too late in the age stage game, so that the move is to a nursing home rather than a  smaller home that compliments the activity of the next generation.

Hopes can also be dashed when the neighbours start sharing their opinions too freely.  “I think it is stupid that you are building in the country, down the road from the main yard…why aren’t you building in town?” Not everyone gets juiced with coffee shop chatter, they prefer close proximity to grandchildren and welding tools (not necessarily at the same time!). I advise my farm families to be united as a couple in their decision making and quit worrying about what the neighbours are thinking, because the family is in charge of their life, the gossips don’t dictate the family’s life.

Coping with a strategy to be creative for financing a drought-riddled (or excessively wet) crop is another challenge on the hope scale. You need to grab the bull by the horns and look at where the dollars for inputs for the new crop are coming from. You might want a farm management specialist to review your numbers and your margins. Denying that the dollars are not looking good is not going to magically make them better. In BC some alluded to farmers who are not looking at their balance sheets carefully, because they prefer to just hope for the best, and not face reality.

Shying away from reality is not something that successful farm families do. They face the tough issues, address the problem, look at options, and pick a workable solution. Sometimes this takes extensive research and other times it takes a very intense, honest, intimate five minute conversation.

The solution to the parent’s need for financing for the new home was generated by the accountant in less than 20 minutes, and it left new hope for the younger generation to spend energy and assets on working capital and debt servicing of farm assets. Hope springs up when advisors can let go of their “turf” wars and genuinely seek out the best options for their client’s interests, not the advisor’s ego.

The wide sky, rolling hills, and undulating bush gives the Peace Region a beautiful canvas on which to paint hopes and dreams. The young children I played with have lots of room to romp, chase calves, ride ponies, and enjoy the freedom of the farm.

If you are caught this winter in the doldrums stage of the cycle of renewal, with a sense of disappointment, or entrapment, what are you going to do to exit that chapter?  Do you need to let go of something?  Do you need to take on a better understanding of your financial situation? Do you need to learn more about the Growing Forward/Taking Stock programs to help you succeed? Do you need to engage a financial planner and start a TFSA…a tax-free savings account?

We all learn new things every day, sometimes though we are not paying attention.

Hang on to hope. Look up to the wide sky, breathe deeply, and ponder what choices lie ahead of you.

Make the call to an advisor you trust.  Engage your farm family team in meaningful purposeful conversation about your future vision.  Go play with your grandchildren.  A merry heart is good medicine.

PS. Invite me back to the Peace. I really love the people and the place.

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