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Don’t Struggle to Release the Farm Reins – Take These 6 Steps

Sara Schafer

Parents: Remember the days when you lived on the edge, innovated because you had to and took risks that catapulted you into the successful position you are in today? Nobody stood in your way. You enjoyed learning new things and tackling the challenges in front of you.

Those risk-taking and business-minded skills were essential to your entrepreneurship and the creation of a farming operation that grew with the pressures of competitive agriculture, explains Val Farmer, a clinical psychologist and author who has specialized in rural mental health and family relationships during his 30-year career.

Now, you are blessed with successors who are next in line to manage the operation. How much of a risk do you take with your children? Are you allowing and encouraging them to grow and be creative? 

“Your challenge now is to manage what you have put together and to shift toward more personal goals and purposes for yourself while giving an opportunity for creativity to develop in the next generation,” Farmer says. “They’ve seen creativity, risk-taking and resourcefulness modeled. They carry your genes. They are itching for that same thrill you experienced.”

Farmer says parents should take these steps to create a healthy, profitable and supportive transfer of control. 

1. Support their desire to be independent. “Your job now is to recede into the background, be less vocal, get out of the way and become comfortable in the consultant or adviser role,” he says. “Your role now is to facilitate your children’s success.”

When their ideas are not your own, be glad they have a mind of their own and are willing to be inquisitive. “They need to work on some projects of their own choosing,” he says. “They need to discover their own radical innovations, find their own vision and be given the opportunity to implement new ideas.”

2. Be an appreciative audience for their ideas. How you ask questions is key. Be supportive, not critical or demoralizing. Ask questions that help them dig a little deeper. 

“The greatest innovations are probably done to impress you,” Farmer says. “Parents and their farming children share excitement when they conceive something innovative, bring it to fruition and enjoy its success.”

3. Encourage diverse experiences, exposure to new ways of doing things and collaboration with other professionals. Give respect to others’ ideas. Now is the time to minimize your own role as the lone ranger who did it all by himself or herself. Encourage travel, conferences, seminars and attendance to cutting-edge presentations that expand horizons.

“Support use of time, resources and local experimentation to try out new innovations before implementing them farmwide,” he adds.

4. Create psychological safety to maximize learning from failure. “Your reactions to failure will be the greatest cue as to your children’s willingness to be creative,” Farmer says. “You must decrease fear of failure and encourage experimentation as a part of the process of learning and filtering ideas.”

Farmer’s advice:

  • Don’t view new ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes as a challenge to your way of doing things.

  • Don’t let your own fear of failure or your own failure experiences inhibit your perspective. More than likely, your own success was built on learning from mistakes.

  • Don’t expect immediate commercial applications during the learning or experimental phases of creativity. When something has proven itself, clear the path so that it can be implemented on a large scale.

5. Give appropriate recognition. Join with others in publicizing and sharing the success of your children’s innovations, he says. Take a back seat, or others will assume you are the driving force.

“Take pride in their accomplishments and help them see their work as noble and as advancing agriculture,” he says.

6. Be a team. “The rising generation sees new possibilities and needs the support of their parents in trusting their ideas,” Farmer says. “They need the sacrifices parents make as parents to get out of their financial comfort zone and to provide opportunities for independence, innovation and expansion.”

The parenting generation, he says, requires the courage and motivation to be supportive even when it is tempting to sit back and not push so hard. The next generation requires the courage to be different, different from their peers and even different from mom and dad. 

Through this transition of leadership, decision-making authority and growth, Farmer has a simple reminder: “One doesn’t manage creativity; one manages for creativity.”



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