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What to consider when non-farm children discuss coming back to the farm

"Many people may want their children to come back home, but to me it would be hard to suggest changing any plan until a child invests both their time and money for a period of time to determine if they are serious. To me that often sounds like someone wanting to take from the farm not add to it."

A man and a woman holding a child walk through a field at sunset. Their backs are to the camera.
How do you know whether a non-farming child is serious about returning to the farm? And how do you balance those interests with those of the children who never left?
Erin Ehnle Brown / Grand Vale Creative LLC
We are part of The Trust Project.

The situation goes something like this. Dad and mom have four children. Two children are farming and two are not. Everything seems kind of normal and then they bring up that a son who has been off the farm 20 years now wants to come back to the farm.

He is not a bad guy; it is just that he has been off the farm for 20 years and he doesn’t really like what he’s doing anymore. That son has been faced with some uncertainty in his current job and recently has hinted that
he maybe would be interested in coming home to farm. The comment was made from son to parents as if the farm is the default. Clearly the farm was not his passion when he left, and it was not his passion when his job was going well. To be honest it probably still isn’t his passion. It’s just that for the moment, he had heard some good things about farming and all of a sudden, he blurted that out.

OK, but then when the farming road gets tough and something else looks good, will he be a candidate to leave just as fast as he came? Tough times on the farm are a matter of when they will happen not if they will happen.

It’s kind of interesting to see how certain families handle that type of comment. Sometimes if one parent mentions a statement like that, the other spouse quickly swats it down as a whim and they never really treat it seriously. On the other hand, some parents treat every one of their children’s comments too literally and they would change plans every time a child says something like that.

For example, another couple told me, “About 10 years ago our son in San Diego thought it would be fun to hobby farm 80 acres.” I ask “Is he showing some real interest?" They say “Well, he comes back to the farm about a week at Christmas each year. He never has time during the spring, summer or fall.” They continue, “His wife is not too excited about farming either. She is not from around here.” So, I will ask you, what do you think? What are the chances he comes back to farm?

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Another couple brought up a daughter in Detroit who is married to an engineer from New Jersey. “A few years back,” their daughter had mentioned that someday, “it would be fun to have some of the home farm and put a cabin on it.” What would you think? Would you plan around that?

Next thing you know, dad and mom aren’t sure if they can put a plan together that directs the farmland to their farming children based on a couple “fantasy comments” that they have heard from their non-farm children. Now I am not suggesting just to blow off those comments and ignore children, but reality does set in somewhere.

Imagine when parents start changing plans for someone to come back to farm after being gone for 20 years. Can you sense how the blood pressure goes up almost instantly for those who have been involved in the farm the whole time?

I suppose that’s easy for me to observe when I am a third party, and it’s a little tougher when your own child says something like that. Many people may want their children to come back home, but to me it would be hard to suggest changing any plan until a child invests both their time and money for a period of time to determine if they are serious. To me that often sounds like someone wanting to take from the farm not add to it.

Myron Friesen is the co-owner of Farm Financial Strategies Inc. in Osage, Iowa. He can be contacted at 866-524-3636 or friesen@farmestate.com.

Related Topics: MYRON FRIESENFARM FINANCES
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