Girls Can Farm Too!

Many fathers would harshly criticize anyone at the coffee shop who would say that their daughter couldn’t farm. Yet, too often what they say and actually do is completely different!

In families with multiple siblings, who becomes CEO of the farm isn’t based on merit but based on anatomy.  The issue of estate planning is a completely separate topic than the issue of farm management and leadership.  Many farms are splitting equity equally amongst siblings but rarely do you see a farm corporation whereby the daughter is being groomed to be CEO.

On too many farms, the daughter is becoming CEO of the farm corporation only if there aren’t any male heirs.  In fact the daughter isn’t included in strategic conversations as a partner.  Dad calls the shots to his grave and never grooms her to manage.  She may work 100 hours a week on the farm, but she is never really treated as a full partner by her father.  She’s never groomed to manage the farm and upon her father’s death she’s left overwhelmed in Dad’s shoes.

Any fool can teach his son/daughter how to drive a tractor straight up and down the field.  Any fool can leave his kids with an estate whereby a brand new tractor and full line of equipment are sitting in the yard.  But very few parents are successful in teaching their kids to manage so that the next time they trade in that equipment, the kids can afford to buy new, buy twice the horse power and buy three vehicles from the cash flow of the previous one.

Farmer’s daughters too often do all of the work in the final years, but it’s Dad who goes into the machinery dealership or into the bank alone to negotiate the purchase of the tractor.  It’s these “soft skills” which are never taught to the daughter, but are taught to most sons.  These skills are more invaluable to teach your daughter than how to plough!

If there are multiple siblings, it’s usually the son that goes with Dad to learn how to negotiate these deals.  But rarely ever the daughter…

I had one client whereby there was two delinquent sons and a stellar daughter.   The farm was one of the largest in the county.  The 63 year old father had just been notified that he had terminal cancer and he had me out to the farm to setup his succession strategy.

His one son was a hard worker but also a drug problem.  The other son had a hard time getting out of bed and was the first to head home.  Both boys were farmers, not out of passion but because it was easy to stay home instead of “venturing off into the world”.  The daughter had multiple job offers after finishing top of her class at University, but had a deep desire to go home and farm with her dad.

It was the daughter that did all of the work.  Since she came home to the Dairy Farm she had turned around the production both within the cow herd and calf barn.  The calf death rate went from >30% when the lazy brother was doing it to 4% when the daughter was doing it.  Due to better feeding, milking protocols and herd health the cow’s production spiked 20%.  She worked 70+ hour weeks consistently and was meticulous about everything she did.

She represented everything that was right with girl’s farming, yet everything that was wrong.  She was drop dead gorgeous.  She had several Dairy farmers vying for her heart.  She didn’t want to move to his farm to become a “Farmer’s wife” but wanted to be the farmer herself.  “he can move to our farm and work for me” she said.  But her father laughed thinking that was a foolish thought.  He thought she’d be married and living on her husband’s farm in 5 years…

Dad had me out to his farm to meet with his son’s about succession planning.   The Daughter was going to get some assets, wasn’t even being considered for succession.  It was all about the boys and Dad was beside himself, not knowing what to do.  He felt neither son was competent enough to take over the management of the Dairy and thought the farm would be sold within 10 years if he gave it to the sons.   He even was wondering about selling the farm and setting up each child with a house and a trust fund.

The father had been trying to groom his sons to be managers of the operation, but they didn’t take the initiative.  To them, the farm was simply a job. He made a smart alec comment about his daughter putting his sons to shame and “it was too bad she wasn’t a boy”.

I then made him realize that his daughter was competent to be CEO of the Dairy and she could best manage her brothers to be good employees.  If they didn’t listen to her, she could fire them but the could retain their equity in the corporation as absentee owners.  Together, the three kids could take on the world together.  The farmer was skeptical at first, but after a few days was on board…

I’ve also had a client family whereby the daughter was now 68 and her two delinquent/younger brothers were in the mid 60’s.  Back in 1981 their father died suddenly leaving the estate in shambles.  It was her leadership that kept the sizeable farm together over the years.  But because the father never named her as CEO and her gender, it was two decades of daily bickering and lost opportunities.

It’s not the Parent’s fault for being chauvinistic.  It’s a cultural norm which is over for 2,000 years old and it’s going to take generations to change.  Even farming mothers who advocate women’s lib sometimes catch themselves falling into the trap of chauvinistic paradigms.

The way to fix this issue on your farm today, is to change the decision culture.  Family decision-making has to evolve to becomes a group process where the daughters are included as an equal partners.  You have got to start having monthly meetings with all of the key family members where the business issues are discussed openly.  No more, Dad discussing strategies one on one with the kids, with the Daughter being the last to know.

If you are a female and serious about being a farmer you need to be at the table when decisions are made. You need to be integrated into the business as a decision maker, not just as a shareholder.    By doing so, over the long term you’ll be regarded as a real decision maker.

You’ll be regarded as a partner, not the princess!