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Tractor Talk Discussion Forum

Re: Keeping him down on the farm

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02-09-2018 10:32:15

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I have probably shared more in my posts on this topic than I should have, but I guess that is necessary in making my points understood. I didn't get the "start" to farming like so many others did, where their fathers went out of their way to bring a son/daughter into the existing operations by either having enough their to share in it, or investing in some sort of expansion or diversification of the operation to provide that opportunity to their heir apparent. My father lacked the financial resources to lend this assistance to me. My grandfather "ruled his empire" with an iron fist, and seemed to not have a clue as to how to "build up" his own sons to have the drive and the stamina to expand and succeed. My grandfather was the third generation on the land, and had some luck and success in his outside endeavors with non-farm business ventures. My father was the oldest of five kids. He has always been rather bright, and learned a lot about farming by working for others part time while in his teens, and just doing things. He moved away for period of time, married my mother, and came back to the farm in a position NOT of financial strength. He worked for my grandfather as his hired hand for 14 years. My dad's youngest brother came back, in the mid-1970's, after he couldn't hack it in the real world, another son in a position NOT of financial strength, but having bachelor's degree in economics and finance. My grandfather became less involved in the day to day operations, while working in his off-farm employment and business ventures, but kept his two sons under pretty tight reins. The youngest son, as I noted, came back with his "tail between his legs" and my grandfather told his oldest son (my father) and his youngest son (12 years younger) "they were equal partners." That set the tone for a troubled partnership, with the youngest one lacking quite a bit in "sweat equity," but my father didn't openly talk about this "sore spot" with anyone. My mother went to work for one of those "off farm business ventures" my grandfather was involved in as Chairman of the Board and CEO. Next comes the second eldest son to come and work in that business as Vice-Chairman. My mother indicated she had a very good working relationship with my grandfather in that setting, however the relationship with my uncle, her brother in law began to get strained, especially when my grandfather phased into semi-retirement, giving up his position as CEO, but retaining the role as Chairman of the Board until his death. That uncle has since retired, and got his money from the business when he sold it. As I look at how he managed it though, he managed it poorly from an HR standpoint, because he was rather open about how he viewed himself in that role as "GOD." The business existed, but it never grew under his "watch." My dad and the rest of his siblings were paid out of their shares of this business when it was sold. There is no further legacy of my family in that institution, as it operates under a totally different name today. The readers of this may wonder what about the other two siblings. Well, another uncle, after graduating college, went to work in a nearby town for a financial institution. From there, after about 6 years, he moved to a large metro area within that same company, working his way up the corporate ladder and did quite well in life, but I cannot help but wonder what sort of a physical toll it may have taken on him, as he died from a terminal illness. My dad's other sibling lived mostly in large, metropolitan areas and worked for a number of years in wholesale for various department stores, and several years later decided to go back to teaching. The uncle that came back to the farm, along with his wife, employed some pretty calculated and devious tactics to push me away from the farm for the better part of 25 years, as well as attempts to push my father out of the operation as well. The farm was split up in the 1990's. Both times I moved back, in the hope of working my way into the farm, the assaults upon my being there were ramped up, and after I left both times, they "played nice" once again with me, while the deliberate attempts to "weasel" their way into those tracts of my father's and under his control would start again. Sometimes these were rather subtle, in loaning a piece of equipment to my father, or doing favors, and it never failed, at some time, the uncle would hit him up to rent my dad's farm from him, or "help him" always with an ulterior motive. When I made my last career move, it involved a physical move from my hometown, to another community a half an hour away. Within a few days of the word getting out about that, my farming uncle approached my dad about "taking over a piece of real estate" I had been in control of and tending to for the prior 7 years. I can only imagine what would have happened if I had moved "hours away," or died! My father had a difficult partnership with this brother while they were working together for about 20 years. Both my grandparents had to die before my father started talking about all the frustrations he had in his relationship with my grandfather, and ultimately the difficulties he had working with his brother. I had been pushed away from the farm by my parents for so many years because: 1) they didn't want me to have any involvement or be subjected to the turmoil in that "strained partnership" he with my farming uncle; 2) they didn't want me to come back to the farm in a position of financial weakness; 3) my father and I already had a strained relationship, and he didn't want to see it strained to the degree his relationship had been strained with his own father; and 4) my father felt more like a failure than a success in his farming endeavors. It took some growing up and some healing on my part, as well as some healing on my father's part, to start mending things between us. I grew up in a hardnosed disciplinarian family with two working parents. My sibling and I had daily and weekly chores and tasks to complete, and I pitched in to the farming efforts as best I could, while also holding down a part time job, in order to put myself through college. I resented for some time being pushed away. My parents knew of my resentment, but didn't want me to come into a "minefield" either. Additionally, with the fallout of the farm crisis in the 1980's, rural areas experienced an exodus of their youth out and away from these smaller communities. I didn't like the various work places I went to, but at least with every place along the way, I had made new friends, many whom I still have close knit relationships with to this day. I cannot stress how hard those first 13 years were for me. My heart was always on the farm, thus I would try a couple different jobs in very close proximity to that farm, so I could spend my spare time working there, especially in the spring and fall, which I did each and every year I was in high school, college, and every job I had, regardless if I was living and working just a few minutes away from the family farm, or several hours away. I didn't ask for or expect a dime for my work! In 2004 or 2005, I took some time off from work leading up to the weekend. My parents had to be away for my sister's college graduation, several states away. I asked for a bit of help from a family friend, and he worked the soil ahead of my planting the last few hundred acres of crop that spring. Those were some very long days for me, since I was going from 6 am until 9 pm, but we got the job done. I don't know for sure, but that determination of mine, along with that effort, seemed to be a turning point for my father in seeing my level of commitment and interest in the family farm. That also seemed to be a key point in healing the difficult relationship we had between us. It was 2 years later, my dad semi-retired and decided to rent the farm to me. I maintain my job because it is a good paying job, and I can do most of what I need to do on weekends and my days off from work, along with help from my father. He hasn't always agreed with what I have done, but he has seen many of the results have been positive and productive. He and my mother both regret pushing me away like they had done. They also admit to living on the farm and raising us there, was the best place to be. I seem to suspect my father regrets not doing more to bring me into the operation several years earlier, as he sees the merits of what I have been able to bring to the operation. He has found joy in farming and working with me, something he didn't have in the strained partnership with his brother, or the difficult relationship with his own father. I also think he feels now, had I been actively and financially involved 10 or 15 years earlier, he would have found greater success. My father, as well as my mom, regret a lot of mistakes they made. Don't we all! They grasp hold of and have realized the interest and the passion I have always had about farming, and regret minimizing or dismissing it for so many years. In my own growth, both personally and professionally, I harbor no resentment or ill feelings about what happened in the past. As I have shared elsewhere, the struggles, the pain, the doors slammed shut, those outside uncontrollable forces working against me and my interests...................all those negatives, have made me who I am today. I would like to think I am a better person as a result, where I am a much better manager, having more confidence in what I am doing. I think I am more appreciative of the good things that happen, but also a lot stronger and more resilient when bad things happen. By and large, I think I am a more humble and charitable person, realizing there is much more to this world than just me. I see to many others who are so "self absorbed." I think I am more conscientious of my actions, and the after effects of those actions towards others, in wanting to be more considerate of others. I have also eluded to the "chip on my shoulder." I don't very often go there, but I have and will, when someone tries to compare himself to me and suggests "I have had it made," or "I know exactly what you are going through or been through." That confidence and strength I have gained, has also ingrained a willingness and ability to stand up to others and fight for what I truly believe, or feel threatened over. I noted some of those outside forces working against me. Twenty years ago, I would have avoided certain conflict or confrontation. That is no longer the case. I do exercise tact and diplomacy, but am able to speak with courage, resiliency, and I can and will push back when required.

When I look at some of my long time acquaintances and peers, who got the start, support, and backing from their father I had wanted so bad, well, I find it rather interesting and enlightening in how I see them handle downturns, failures, and other adversities. There were times, when those closest to me, thought I was close to "breaking" or "going over the edge." I will admit there were times I did crawl into a bottle and didn't want to come out. I had many mornings, when it was physically and mentally painful to put my pants on and go to work on Monday mornings. I lost my faith for a time. I was angry and bitter, and I felt this way for a long time. I hated the life I was living, particularly my work life. I hated where I was living at the time. I was angry in how I felt it was one bad thing followed by another. Part of that anger stemmed from feeling like "I was a good son. I did all that everyone had asked of me and then some. I didn't get into trouble. I tried to do good things. Good things are supposed to happen to good people. I had openly asked God what I had done to deserve this perceived hell I felt I was living in. I felt just about everything I had my fingers in turned to "horse manure." My breakthrough started when I made the decision to make my last career move. Interviewing and accepting that job was exactly what I needed to do. I had my eyes so focused on "the farm," that I lacked the peripheral vision to see or look for anything else, and begin to realize it was not meant to be for me to be that full time farmer as I had wanted to much. I was blind to the signs God was sending me for so long, or as my father always said, "I couldn't see the forest through the trees." I had been fighting for, and beating my head against the wall for something that was not intended or planned for me, and I truly believe all that was conditioning and resiliency training I had to go through to make me who and what I am today.

So back to the question at hand, and why did I go into the depth and detail I did? There are a lot of experiences I shared in HOW NOT to bring in the next generation to not only a family farming operation, but a family business. Failures are not all bad. I failed in my first job out of college, but I learned a lot from that failure. Albert Einstein once said, "Insanity is going the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome." Failing once is a lesson. Failing again for the same reason probably approaches the point of insanity. Especially today, I see too many young men coming back to their father's farms, in similar conditions and situations as I tried on two separate occasions, before I started renting my family's farm. Too little experience and short on financial resources. I feel it is imperative for those coming back to the farm to have experience and success off and away from the family farm, before coming back. Working for somebody other than dad (or family) instills a lot of experiences and traits which cannot be obtained by never working for someone not related. I also think it strengthens the work ethic and adds some depth to how to conduct business with others, along with dealing with potential employees. I also believe that outside work experience adds a "removed dimension" to making business decisions. Combine this, with professional success outside the farm, I feel promotes a desire to "grow one's business" rather than "wring whatever one can out of the farm" and merely exist.

As I shared above, a tumultuous farming operation with explosive internal dynamics and drama IS NOT conducive to a successful or strong operation. Recognizing and addressing weaknesses and shortcomings will lead to a quicker failure. Some commented on another thread about a part time farm/sideline farm is not a successful model. Well, I differ with that. When a family of 4, such as mine, faces a high cost for health insurance ($22,000/year +) accompanied by high deductibles ($6550 per insured), a full time job with benefits is an advantage worth having to help cover these costs.

Sacrifices must be made by all involved. My parents could probably get a bit more rent on the farm than what I am paying them. I have also invested a lot into that farm myself, in terms of fertility, machinery, drainage, conservation practices, on site facilities, etc., not to mention nearly 3 decades of sweat equity. This is reflected in their plans for the transition of ownership after their deaths to me and my siblings.

Sorry for the "short novel" I could possibly title "My Battles and My War." I most certainly shared too much, but those who know me well, know that when a question is asked of me, there are never short, easy answers, and I typically have to lay down a foundation to reinforce my points, before I can answer the question. This certainly is one of the longest, though!

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