Radke: How to operate on a family ranch
Working alongside family members on the ranch is a huge blessing, but it doesn’t come without its pitfalls. My grandpa retired younger than most, which left my dad as the sole operator of our seedstock business until my husband Tyler and I returned to the ranch in 2009.
With two generations actively working to make a living on the operation, at times, there are situations that can be tricky to navigate. However, if we take the time to look at things through the other person’s vantage point, we can listen, understand and communicate with each other more effectively.
B. Lynn Gordon, South Dakota State University Extension agricultural leadership specialist assistant professor, recently launched a series of columns that explain the complicated dynamics of the senior, middle and future generations of an agricultural enterprise.
In the first installment, which you can read at igrow.org, Gordon explains the ABCs of a family business consisting of three generations including the example of a 71-year-old who started the business, his 51-year old son and the 24-year old grandson who just graduated from college and returned home to the ranch.
Gordon described the typical person at each of these various stages in life, and in doing so, helps producers understand where other family members are coming from.
In her example, Gordon describes the senior operator like this:
“The senior generation started the farming business and is still very active in the operation although his son thinks he should be slowing down. The grandfather was born during the boomer generation, when work always came first as did loyalty. They respected others of their generation and their elders and thus believed respect was part of daily work and all
communication. They were much more used to conducting deals with a handshake or making face-to-face visits to order equipment parts or buy corn than do it on the Internet. So trying to understand the new technologies in today’s agricultural marketplace is very foreign and frustrating to them.”
The middle generation, who would be my dad’s age, is stuck in the middle between old traditions and new advancements in production methods.
According to Gordon, “The middle generation at ABC Farms, is in the prime of his farming/ranching career. He had had learned hands-on from his father for 20 years how to do things the best way possible, and knows he has about 20 years ahead yet to farm productively. He has seen a great deal of changes in technology and has had minimal experience with it when he was in college, just before heading back to the farm. He has had a steep learning curve with Internet use and has realized business can’t always be done face-to-face like his dad wants it to be done. He struggles to get the senior generation to respect him for his ideas, because he of course, is not the senior operator.”
With plenty of book smarts, the newly graduated millennial has plenty of ideas but needs some experience. Gordon describes the future generation as, “The 24-yr-old son graduates from college and decides to come back to the operation. The family was able to acquire more land and this next generation wanted to farm. Straight out of college he has a wealth of fresh ideas from improving crop rotations, buying a larger air-seeder to increase seeding rates and reduce planting hours, and maybe even considering adding another enterprise to diversify and add more income to the operation. He heavily relies on the Internet, social media and text messages. This young person is very in tune with modern agriculture through his most recent college education, continuous education through the Internet sources and thus, has a lot to offer to the operation.”
Working with multiple generations can be difficult. If we take the time to think about how other generations think and what experiences, knowledge and ideas they bring to the table, we can work better together without the frustration. Every new generation is going to be a little different than the previous one. We must cater to the strengths of each generation to better the ranch and achieve success. ❖