I’ve always loved the Olympics. For some of the sports, the rules are very defined and clear-cut and for others, there are a lot of judgment calls. For some sports I’m not always sure exactly how things are scored or what the penalties are for. To me, a sport like track is often times is very defined. Everyone has a starting line, and the gun goes off and everyone runs to a finish line. The timing system tells everyone exactly how long it took to get from point A to point B.
Wouldn’t track be crazy if people started all over on the track and then they could stop whenever they wanted to? If they got tired, they could slow down or they could just keep running as long as they wanted to. If someone wanted to join the race after the gun went off, they could and there was not really a set finish line, so people could just kind of decide for themselves when they were done. Some people were running on their own, some people were running in a group, and some were carrying a baton and handing it off to another person.
Sounds like chaos! How could you ever have rules for something like that because nothing would ever seem fair or predictable. So, what did I just describe there? I think I just described farm families. Some are running on their own, some are farming with multiple families or family members. One brother started farming after graduation, another started farming after they came back from the war, another had an off-farm job for 10 years and then came back to the farm, another family member had no interest but married someone who did. Another family member started on the farm, then left, then came back. Someone else had a health issue that forced early retirement. Someone else never retired at all and died with their boots on. Someone else worked seven days a week, while another wanted to quit at 5 and never worked on a weekend. Someone else did all the livestock work their entire career, while another family member drove tractor, and another “just sat in the office.” How do you make plans for that and keep that fair?
It doesn’t seem right that one brother would start farming, while another starts 10 years later, and gets the exact same deal as soon as they start. Is there no value for those extra 10 years of labor on the front side? Then the one who starts 10 years later grumbles when his brother wants to slow down at age 70. The younger complains that paying the retired brother for 10 years after he quit farming is kind of dead weight to the farm.
What about the value of capital versus actual work on the farm? What if there are two people involved in the farm and one is providing more capital and one more labor? Is that a fair exchange? What if there are two families farming together and one family has someone there to take the baton and the other family doesn’t have anyone to pass the baton on to.
The reality is that farming is a lot like a game without rules. It’s not so simple as a defined 400-meter race where everyone runs the exact same distance in their lane and finishes at the same line. Sometimes life and farming feel like a combination of a rowing team, a rugby scrum, high hurdles and free style wrestling. Ideally, we all want our farm to look like a good relay team with perfect exchanges. And of course it is important to get this done before our flame goes out.
Myron Friesen is the co-owner of Farm Financial Strategies Inc. in Osage, Iowa. He can be contacted at 866-524-3636 or firstname.lastname@example.org.