Children and parents are often frustrated when working together on the farm. The following article provides some tips on how to avoid such conflict.
Right across our country, young farmers have expressed to me their frustrations at having to farm with their fathers. In some cases, these frustrations have become very strong and the resultant tension between father and son has become very unpleasant. As one young man put it to me: “I love my dad, but I hate my employer.”
This dual relationship of father -son and employer-employee is a major problem on farms today and has caused a great deal of bitterness.
Let’s sketch a typical situation where a man works hard on his farm and strives to build it up with a view of leaving something worthwhile to his son. Furthermore, he looks forward to the day his son will join him on the farm. So he sends his son off to an agricultural college or university, and the day finally arrives when his son graduates and is ready to start ‘farming with dad’. What now?
Well, the first critical question is whether the farming operation is large enough to accommodate two managers. It may well be that there is simply not enough work to keep two managers busy. In such a case, it would be far better for the son to start working elsewhere as a farm manager, and then when his dad is ready to retire, the son can take over the farm.
Let’s assume, however, that the farm is large enough to accommodate two managers and that son joins dad. What does the organisation structure look like? • Figure 1: If the organisation structure looked like this, there would be relatively few problems, because dad would deal only with son, and son would have full authority over the labourers. • Figure 2 (this, unfortunately, is how the organisation structure usually looks): This creates tremendous confusion because nobody quite knows who’s the boss. Both son and dad are now giving instructions to labourers, and these instructions are sometimes in direct conflict with each other. Nobody is quite sure anymore who is responsible for what.
Why does the conflict arise? Let’s look at it from both points of view. Dad has devoted a major part of his life to the farm. He has invested more than just money into this operation; he has invested himself. It is therefore unreasonable to expect dad to hand over his life’s work to son and allow him to do with it as he pleases. Dad has every right to want to maintain control.
On the other hand, the son has the same right as any young man, namely the right to prove himself. He has the need to show the world what he is capable of achieving.
However, that can only be accomplished if he is given an opportunity to function on his own and to make his own decisions; and it is exactly at that point where the rights of son and dad clash. Dad wants to maintain control by making all decisions, son wants to prove himself by making those decisions himself.
Both are right! This is therefore not a question of who is right but of establishing a work relationship between father and son that will satisfy both their needs.
I propose a two-stage solution. Stage one is to agree that for the first six to 12 months after son joins dad, the organisation structure will follow Figure 3. This implies that for a specified time the son will work like a labourer. Do every job himself. No giving of orders; just working with the labourers.
The idea is to give the son the first-hand knowledge of what the work really involves. No son will really mind this if he knows there is a definite time limit. On the other hand, some fathers may feel this stage to be unnecessary and so they can proceed to the second stage:
Step One: Dad and son must agree which section of the farm each one will take full responsibility for. For example, they may decide that dad will take charge of dairy while son takes control of the pineapples. Such a division will obviously depend on the particular set-up of each farm.
They will obviously share equipment and dad will still have the final say when it comes to capital expenditures. But each one will have his own labourers and dad may not give instructions to the son’s subordinates without the son’s permission and vice versa (see Figure 4).
Step Two: Dad and son must now agree on a number of aspects regarding the son’s area of responsibility. First, they must agree on the results the son will aim to achieve, and the costs he is allowed to incur. Second they must agree on the information son must give dad on a monthly basis. They may have to design some control forms so the reporting function takes place on a systematic basis. Third, they must agree that as long as son is achieving his objectives and staying within the budget, dad will not interfere in the son’s area of operation. He may give advice, but it must be very clearly understood that it is only advice and not instruction. The son must always be free to accept or reject that advice.
Of course, if son is not achieving his objectives, then dad has every right to intervene and to take over the reins in that area. But then we are dealing with a different situation.
The above proposal will meet the needs of both dad and son. Dad is, first of all, still active in an area of the farm that he loves. Second, he still maintains control in that he gets regular information on what is happening on the other section of the farm. At the same time, son is given the opportunity to prove himself. If he doesn’t succeed, then the consequences would be the same as in any other job where a person is not successful.
I know of several father-son partnerships that work extremely well. In all cases, dad and son have to come to some arrangement that resembles the above situation very closely.
This principle can apply equally well where more than one son (or son-in-law) joins dad on the farm. The structure would then resemble Figure 5.
If you are a son who finds himself in the frustrating position described earlier, I suggest you show this article to your dad and discuss it with him. If he refuses to discuss it and continues to make all the decisions himself, start looking for a job as a farm manager elsewhere. Tell your dad that you do not want to destroy the father-son relationship, and that you would rather get a job elsewhere as a farm manager.
The day he is ready to retire, and needs you on the farm, you will be ready to take over from him.
If you don’t move out you will be frustrated, lose your self-confidence and experience a great deal of bitterness towards your dad. It’s not worth it.
ABOVE: Theabove figuresrepresent thevarious organisational structuresthat existonfamilyrunfarms. [ These figures accompanied the article in our 30 November 1987 issue.]