When someone on a family farm brings home a new spouse it’s cause for celebration, a step toward passing the farm to the next generation. Of course, there are lots of legal and business decisions to make, but then everything is fine, right?
No. There are several ways things can go wrong, from arguments about who’s going to mow the lawn to confusion about who’s got signing authority.
While the most common situation is a woman becoming part of her new husband’s family farm, that’s not always the case. Weyburn farmer Mark Bratrud took part in a panel discussion on this topic at the Farm Forum Event in Saskatoon in early December. After starting his careers working at other jobs in the ag industry, Bratrud and his wife, Bobbie, moved from Alberta to Weyburn, Sask., to take over Bobbie’s family farm. Bratrud’s situation was slightly easier than a typical transition because he and his wife were able to expand Bobbie’s father’s farm rather than simply take it over. Bratrud describes it as a “growth takeover.”
Through his experiences with his own farm and his work in the grain industry, Bratrud brought a list of issues that could make things more difficult for a new spouse.
1. Ownership: On some farms, the younger generation does not have legal ownership of many of the farm assets or a clear path to ownership. “Sometimes the son or daughter will be into their 40s and they don’t have ownership,” Bratrud says. For a new spouse looking for certainty, delays in transferring ownership can erode trust in their in-laws. While a son or daughter might be comfortable waiting for change, a new spouse is more likely to bring up the issue.
2. Timelines: Where there is a no solid plan to pass on responsibilities to the next generation, a timeline can keep everyone accountable. For example, setting a five-year goal to bring the younger generation fully into the farm could go a long way to creating a solid foundation with a new daughter- or son-in-law.
3. Defined roles: On a busy farm, it’s important to discuss who’s going to do what. “Everybody brings different strengths,” Bratrud said.
It’s also important to discuss how everyone on the farm will be compensated. Where there is more than one family living on the farm it’s crucial that new in-laws understand how they and their spouse will be paid, and to make sure there is a clear relationship between time put in to the farm and money taken out of the farm.
4. Cash-flow planning: “Everybody has different cash flow needs,” Bratrud says. The older generation may have fewer cash flow needs while the younger generation needs cash to build a house or send kids to university. If there isn’t a clear cash flow plan in place, this can cause conflict. For example, “the older generation may be more prepared to sit on grain,” waiting for a higher price, Bratrud says, while the younger generation needs cash today.
5. Looking at the long term: Even for the most well-adjusted farm families, there will be tough times. When that happens, Bratrud says, “It’s important to be able to pull yourself out of the moment.” Step back from the immediate conflict, and consider the long-term relationship you want to achieve.