While brain drain has been a problem in family farming for quite a while, there are still plenty of children who go to college and return home to participate in the family business. And in the coming years there will be one of the biggest transfers of farm ownership in history.
This is no small matter. An estimated 93 million acres — 10% of all the nation’s farmland — is slated to change hands by 2019. A majority of the transfers will be accomplished through wills, trusts or gifts, the USDA says. About 21 million acres may be sold between people who aren’t related, while 13 million acres is expected to be sold from one relative to another.
Obviously, there’s no guarantee that opinions on farm management are going to mesh with family members, and that may even include disagreements over whether to adopt no-till or start seeding cover crops. There are a lot of acres at stake, and perceptions about whether no-till works or doesn’t work could determine how much the practice continues to grow in the U.S.
While attending the Southern Soil Health Conference in Ardmore, Okla., earlier this year, an attendee asked a panel of no-tillers — some of them relatively new to the practice — how they handle making these big changes with fathers, grandfathers and or children around.
Here’s what they had to say:
John Heerman, Haxtun, Colo.: I dragged my Dad to a couple of conferences because I went to a couple on my own and came back with these ideas, and he thought I was a crazy kid that he had and wondered, what I was doing? But then I was able to drag him along to some of these events and see the presentations and he started changing his opinion.
So I think a big part of it’s just educating them and letting them know what you know, and then trying it on your place — maybe just on a small scale and let them see what happens.
Terry Forst, Waurika, Okla.: Family operations are probably the most difficult thing to be in, I would think. I’ve got a lot of friends that are, but they’re also one of the biggest blessings you can possibly have.
My Dad passed away before we started to no-till so it was all on me. It was either going to be me being the hero or not, and right now I’m probably not because my youngest son, who’s very involved in the horse part of our operation, and my oldest son, who runs the wildlife part of our operation, they both farmed 24 hours a day. Somebody dragged the midnight shift and we ran the tractors and Robert and Clay both participated in all that.
Well, in Jefferson County, Robert sees a lot of the tilled ground looking better than our no-till at this point in time. He’s going to be my biggest obstacle because as they come up I’ve got to be able to convince him about what we’re doing, and all the benefits we’ve spoken about. I just told him I’ve got so many more questions than I have answers, but convincing my child might be the hardest thing I’m going to have to do.
Jimmy Emmons, Leedey, Okla.: My father passed on about 20 years ago, so he missed that. But often we — and I lump all of us into ‘we’ — talk about how we’ve degraded the soil and what a poor job we’ve done. But I want to point out that my grandfather was walking behind the plow behind the horse, and was doing the best he could do with the equipment he had then. So was my Dad.
And then, while they were plowing they thought it was better because they were mining the carbon out of the soil. But they didn’t know that and I just want to say that I don’t intentionally point fingers at that generation because they were doing the best they could with what they had.
I think that’s what we need to do today is do the best that we can do with what we have, and we have a lot more tools than they used to have. Because my Dad — we could have never planted in stuff like Alan Mindemann was planting in a while ago with his equipment. My grandfather had the first rubber-tire tractor in our county, but he couldn’t have planted with his drill into that kind of residue. So clean till was the only option.
So that is a hard barrier to change — doing what we’ve always done. But if you keep doing the same old thing you’re going to get the same old results.
If you’re in a multi-generational operation and have adopted no-till, or are beginning to do it, how have you managed potential disagreements among family members? Feel free to send me an e-mail or leave a comment below with your thoughts or suggestions.