Farmer's Weekly (South Africa) - - Contents -


years ago

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.

The con­flict

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.

The cause

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.

The so­lu­tion

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.

Other Re­la­tion­ships

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.]

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