While enjoying a beautiful Sonoma County afternoon at the Premium Member luncheon at the Kunde Winery, many things that Secretary Ross said resonated with me, but one significant “take away” from her stellar keynote was how farm families are the best at succession planning. In my biased opinion, agriculturalists are the best at many things, but Secretary Ross’ praise for how farmers and ranchers pass the baton from one generation to the next explains why our industry never falters. Even during natural disasters, eras of overregulation, or current trade wars, our industry weathers every storm because we embrace multigenerational leadership.
In today’s world, statics show that the average person changes jobs 12 times in their career. That is a heck of a lot of new starts! The gold watch and institutional knowledge are relics of the past and we all know there is a catastrophic shortage of workers in the United States. With a graying baby boomer workforce hellbent on retiring early to an active lifestyle, there is a concern for business continuity. Who will be the CEOs, the EDs, the Presidents, the leaders of tomorrow? Once again, agriculture is ahead of the curve.
If you know me, then you probably appreciate that I am on a slippery-slope using a sport reference (I recently asked my husband how many innings are in basketball) but as I see it, agriculturalists were the first to draft the “Farm Team”.
Just as all professions and sports teams have the journeyman or the minors, farm families have their replacement roster. Even before they are born, a dairyman or grape grower is already planning how their new son or daughter will draft into a lifetime of suiting up (jeans and rubber boots) and playing for the home team out in the pasture. It starts out slow with baited exposure to the farming life; a wheelbarrow ride on a load of firewood or the chance to feed a bottle to a bummer lamb, and before you know it the next generation of farmers has caught the bug.
But our industry takes care of its own, and to provide a “village” of support for our future ag leaders, budding farmers get exposed to a flock of like-minded apprentices through the 4-H, FFA, and Grange programs. As teenagers, we realize that not only does staying in the family business of farming have appeal but surrounding yourself with lifetime friends that have the same passion you have is like wrapping yourself in a well-worn comforter. In the business world this is called networking, but in our world, it is more like tailgating.
Multigenerational farming operations have their challenges, and occasionally the Sunday dinner table (aka the 50-yard line) has well-drawn scrimmage lines, but that is what happens when folks are passionate about each other and their livelihood. But that is short lived. Farmers cannot be prouder than when their prodigy steps up and takes the reins of an operation. Likewise, the next generation may not outwardly show it, but they find comfort in knowing that when sage advice is needed, their mentor and on-the-job trainer is as close as the next driveway over.
Some may think that the Farm Team originated at spring training and involved a bat and a ball, but I know better. For centuries, the original Farm Teams have huddled over breeding plans, planting schedules, and were formed out of tradition and a desire to maintain their family’s legacy.