OFA Viewpoint: Federation supports planning for next generation of farmers

WELLINGTON COUNTY – Farm succession planning comes with layers of complexity. Most farmers live where they work, so it’s also about the family home and, in the case of a farm that’s been in the same family for multiple generations, an emotional attachment to the land and to family history can also be at play.

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) has teamed up with Farm Life Financial again this year to offer a Financial Literacy and Farm Succession Planning Roadshow for farmers with seven in-person education days across southern, central and eastern Ontario, as well as a virtual session.

It’s a topic near and dear to my heart – having gone through a farm family succession process, I know firsthand how important it is, how hard it can be, and why proper planning is essential to keeping both the business going and the family together.

My husband and I farm near the town of Mitchell, where we raise broiler chickens and grow crops. We’ve taken over the day-to-day farm operations from my parents, but my mom is still involved in the business as an advisor and helps out when my other activities take me away from the farm.

Our transition process started when my mom heard a presentation by a succession planning specialist in the U.S. who suggested farmers have to decide whether they are a business-first family or a family-first business. This means focusing on the future with a solid plan versus relying on tradition and assumption and hoping for the best.

Together and individually, our family met with lawyers and accountants to figure out what our long-term vision and goals were for the farm.

For the older generation of farmers looking to retirement, start your conversations early with both your kids who want to farm and those who don’t, and have a vision of how you want to see the future of the farm and how involved you want to continue to be in decision-making. Don’t just leave things in the will and hope for the best.

The younger generation has to be willing to listen and come into the process with open ears and minds. Although you may have big plans for the future and how you want to put your stamp on the family business, you should respect that you’re taking over a legacy and the first cheque you write every year should be to the people who’ve made it possible for you to farm.

Above all, both generations have to be flexible and willing to embrace change – and a certain amount of creativity may be needed to pull it all off.

That’s why I believe it’s important to look to transition planning specialists for help and workshops like the OFA roadshow can be a great opportunity to start thinking about the process. More information on dates and locations is available at ofa.on.ca.

By Sarah Wood,
Vice-president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.