Most farmers, like most people in their every day lives, are so busy with the challenges of daily life that they do not tend to take out time to contemplate their “legacy,” much less plan for it in specific ways. Like any successful venture, though, building a successful family farm that sustains your family practically and meaningfully into the future requires good planning.
The practical side of your farm legacy, like any business plan, includes finances, marketing, growth and development opportunities, risk factors and specific steps to address them. The meaningful aspect of your farm legacy has more to do with intangibles like what you want to be in the world, what is it about your family farm that makes it important to continue operating and even growing?
Like curriculum, long-range, business and other forms of planning, good farm legacy planning will include certain features in its final form: a mission statement, a set of goals, measurable objectives, and strategies. It will include regular marking points for evaluation, specific measurement tools and the flexibility to make necessary changes if a strategy doesn’t work as you would like. Such a plan must include agreed upon mechanisms for change, especially in a family environment where one important value is usually to remain a family unit.
Engaging in a process of creating a lasting farm legacy can unify your family by generating appreciation for your shared values and codifying a specific mission that expresses meaning for all of you. It also engages all of you in ensuring your ongoing financial success and providing some research and documenting techniques to do that. Any individual or group benefits from this kind of planning — where there is no business involved, a “life plan” leads to a more successful (however one defines that) and meaningful life.
So how to you engage in a process with your family of planning a lasting farm legacy? Of course you can call in the experts, and in some cases and with certain complex succession or financial or legal issues, you may require that. But there is a lot you can do on your own. Here are five steps you can take with your family to ensure the future of your family farm:
1. Engage all family members, any age, in this process. Perhaps not everyone in your family is old enough to write, but they can still participate! Someone else can record their contributions and incorporate them — or record a family meeting in which each person, including your youngest, gets a chance to speak, and make a transcript of it. Ask each family member to consider what they love about their family farm. What makes each want to get up in the morning, what do they look forward to, what makes farming meaningful for them?
2. Forge a mission statement. Taking into account each person’s contribution to #1, put together a written mission statement, a statement of what your family farm means to your family now and for the future. Keep working on it until everyone in the family feels like it expresses what this life and business is and should be in a meaningful way.
3. Create a set of goals that express your mission statement. If part of your mission, for example, is to live in a close relationship with nature, then a goal might be to develop sustainable farming practices.
4. Create a set of measureable objectives and agree on them. Objectives differ from goals in that they are specific and measureable. Using the preceding example, developing sustainable farming practices, one objective could be to institute agro-forestry on one experimental acre by x-date.
5. Create strategies. Staying with the same example, agro-forestry includes many specific techniques. Do your research, and determine exactly how you will take steps toward meeting this particular objective.
Write down the results of your planning, your mission, goals, objectives and strategies. Be sure to include specifics about how you will measure progress toward your objectives and goals: in your experimental agro-forestry acre, for example, measuring soil health and net profitability against the same on other acres during a set period of time. If you can apply this technique to your finances and succession plan yourself, great! If not, at least you can establish a clear vision for moving forward and as the basis for more detailed financial and legal planning.
Changes in a plan like this are easiest at the strategy end and more difficult at the “meaning” end. Strategies, meant to contribute to reaching objectives, can and should be discarded when your measurements show they don’t contribute to meeting objectives. Your mission and goals, though, say something about the meaning of this life for you and for others in your family. If your mission loses its meaning or changes dramatically, that can lead to a crisis or divisiveness in a family that finds meaning in very different ways and pulls in different directions.
Most importantly, be prepared to review your plan on a regular basis with your whole family so you can accommodate the impact of changes in the environment or changes in worldview as you build toward a successful and meaningful future.
For more information about leaving a lasting farm legacy, please contact us.