There are some columns I wish I did not have to write. This is one of them. Through the past few years of land values jumping as much as 23 per cent in one year it is no surprise to farm families to see their balance sheets with larger numbers. It is shocking to those same families to see the intensity of conflict over the sale of that land, should one parent die, and the other be left to consider what happens next.
My greatest concern is for the farm women left behind and their farming children. Although it is 2019, I am still meeting far too many female landlords who have not paid attention to the farm’s finances or cash flow cycles. These widows sometimes do not understand the equity they have power over. They hate being yelled at by their farming children or taken on long drives by disgruntled non-farming kids.
What’s the fight about?
Uncertainty. Being in the “neutral zone,” the place of the pain of not knowing what the future holds for you personally, financially or for the legacy of the farm.
Let’s break this down. Surviving parents need financial security to live out their years well on the farm, or in a new residence in town, and to consider how to manage the need and risk of long-term care. If the widow or widower has financial planning weaknesses it will be very distressing to the surviving successor(s).
Farming children need access to land at a reasonable rate in order to make a profit farming. Not profitable? Why are you still farming? Oh, Elaine, we love the lifestyle of farming, it’s where we always have wanted to raise our family.
Non-farming children have mortgages of their own to pay, and dreams of what a cashed-in quarter section would do to their financial visions. They would love to have some cash now! Dad promised I would get some land, why is that not happening now?
Bullying towards the surviving founder “is the deliberate, disrespectful repeated behaviour toward another for the bully’s gratification.” (Valerie Cade, author of Bully Free at Work.) According to Cade, you can possibly reason and negotiate with a difficult person. You cannot reason or negotiate with a workplace bully.
Bullying brings out the real person, and you might not like what you are seeing in your adult child or sibling, or brother-in-law. Why? They feel they own the situation.
- Put anger and controlling behaviour in the present, the bully is demanding and you need to find a way to make it work in your favour.
- Don’t forget about your needs, think about what you need to work through the situation.
- Get professional advice and support from your lender, accountant, and friends you trust to assure you that you are “not going crazy.”
- “Be friendly, firm and not familiar,” says Valerie Cade (bullyfreeatwork.com).
If you are feeling pushed and shoved about the decisions for the management of your farm you need to assess the situation and ask for help. I recently met Irene Fitzsimmons from Athabasca’s Aging Friendly community and she concurs that she sees cases of elder abuse in farm family scenarios.
There’s a nasty strain of agriculture culture that dictates, “keep your dirty laundry close to home and don’t show others.” This is not healthy when you are an emotionally drained farm widow who is desperate to find a sense of peace, harmony, and security for the many months and years ahead. Farmland bullying is also unsettling to the successor who is working hard to pay off the equipment inventory, move the grain, feed cows, and stay married.
What’s your next step?
Call for help to your financial adviser or reach out to the elder abuse service providers in your area. Talk to your farming children and form a plan for family communication with strong boundaries. Being firm, as Valerie Cade suggests, means that you will not cave to demands of the bully, but you will enlist professional and emotional support.
Perhaps these communication scripts will be helpful:
“What part of ‘No,’ do you not understand?”
“Where is it written that you think you will be getting a piece of land from this farm as fair DNA pay? The farmland is part of our economic well-being, and we will consider financial transparency for all of the family, but ultimately the farming shareholders decide what land is transferred or sold.”
“Your bullying behaviour is not acceptable, and I am no longer willing to lose sleep over this unresolvable situation. We’ve hired a facilitator to run the next family discussion on this matter.”
“Please make an appointment with your family doctor. Since Dad died you’ve really been stressed out, and I suspect you need to be treated for depression. How about reaching out to a mental health worker also?”
“As a landlord I am willing to work with tenants who treat me well, and who pay me fairly. You no longer fit in those categories, so I will not be renewing my lease with you.”
As a member of the Canadian Association of Farm Advisors I network with experts who understand agriculture and the family dynamics of farming. Go to www.cafanet.ca to find advisers near you. Write out a list of five key questions and interview folks until you feel you have the right chemistry for communication to work well together.
Knowledge is power
If you’re recently widowed and floundering with all the financial decisions ahead, take time to educate yourself. Registered financial planners can guide you, as can farm management specialists who provide viability assessments, cash flow projections, and recovery plans for your farm’s best management practices. Make a binder to keep all your important documents together as you meet with various advisers. Write your questions down, and give your brain some rest.
Fear can be managed. Don’t borrow worry for the future. Take one day at a time, and work hard to build your emotional support network. Take care of yourself physically with good sleep. If you are having trouble sleeping ask www.sleepwell.com for support or talk to your doctor. You need good refreshing sleep in order to make good decisions.
The bullying on farms stops now. Do not tolerate bad behaviour.