OFA works to begin bringing family back to the farm

Hundreds of Ontario farmers gathered in Toronto recently for the Ontario Federation of Agriculture’s annual general meeting and convention.

The theme this year looked at The Future of Food – a topic that brought much discussion about what the future will bring for generational farms.

The traditional family farm was passed down generation to generation, with farm work being divided among the family. It brought food to the dinner table, profit for the family, and was a means to teach children the value of hard work. For generations we have continued a legacy of family farming in Ontario that is the cornerstone of many rural communities.

But how do you take the family farm and pass it on within a family, and still keep the family intact? How can we – today’s farmers – give the next generation the opportunities and support to carry forward the very farms that their parents or grandparents built?

Dr. Ron Hanson, a professor in the Agricultural Economics department at the University of Nebraska, shared his views at the  convention during his keynote address entitled: You can buy the family farm, but I still own it. A key point for families to consider is how to deal with farm succession in a positive manner. Passing on ownership is one thing – but what’s more important is to understand how to adequately pass on control to truly hand over farm responsibilities to the next generation of farmers.

Too often we neglect to address issues in our families before passing on ownership and control of the farm. It’s time we change our mentality when it comes to the family farm – it’s not only a source of income and responsibility; at the root of it all is our family.

Making sure our families communicate and address issues is imperative in order to maintain a smooth transition from generation to generation. How can we expect our children to feel confident in taking over the responsibilities of the family farm if they feel animosity toward it?

Many farmers spoke to me after Dr. Hanson’s presentation to say how relevant it was, and how his examples were so similar to their own family farm experiences.

While it may not be as easy to pass on our family farms, it’s our responsibility to prepare our family for succession once we’re ready to move on.

One way to do that is to look toward youth programs to prepare the next generation for the responsibilities that come with owning and operating the family farm.

The OFA works closely with the Canadian Young Farmers Forum and the Junior Farmers of Ontario to mentor young farmers and teach them how to become leaders in agriculture and agri-business in Ontario. Those programs are fostering young farmers and educating them on the responsibilities they’ll have once they take over the farm for their family.

Supporting those programs at home through mentoring, positive reinforcement, and nurturing, can help build the self-assurance those youth need to feel confident in taking on the responsibilities of following in our footsteps on the farm.

While we may not be able to stop the evolution of the family farm, we need to be able to encourage more youth to understand the challenges they’ll be faced with when asked to take over the family’s farm. Our traditional farms have evolved, and so too should our succession strategies for the next generation. It’s our responsibility to prepare our children for the role ahead. If they are to take control of our family’s farming business, we need to teach them how to do it and do it right.