Dear Michael: We have been working with our farm son for about ten years now. He is married with no children and his wife doesn't spend a lot of time on the farm. I think she should show more interest–like I had to, but she has a good job.
My son now wants us to turn more and more of the farm interest over to him because he's been there for ten years and he feels like the technology he brought to the farm has mad the farm more productive.
However, we're not sure if we should be handing so much over to them when our daughter-in-law shows so little interest in the farm and we're not sure how much we'll need to live on in years to come. Is there a right amount of how much you can help your children without feeling guilty about not giving them more? – When To Stop Giving.
Dear When to Stop: These are the kind of questions I miss my old pal, Dr. Val Farmer, who was a psychologist, was here to assist with the answers to.
I can tell you my views about the evolution of the family farm and how it's been affected over the past few decades and how different things about the 'generation gap' are changing.
First of all, I find many young farmers are marrying later in life – twenty-seven to thirty-four are now the average ages for getting married. In the past generation, the average was between twenty-one and twenty-five, and the generation before was five to seven years younger.
The problem this causes in estate planning is this. Likely when you got married, you considered yourself a farm wife first and, even if you worked off the farm, an intricate part of the farm operation.
By the time children today are getting married today, they've finished advanced college educations (which was rare for our generation) and many have already started on different career paths prior to marrying into a family farm. Due to this, their focus is oftentimes not on the family farm, but on their own career outside the farm.
This can often cause a lot of issues for the family farm operation because about the time Dad and Mom thought they could take it a little easier – thinking their ability to contribute labor was beginning to lag – they are not being replaced by two people – just the one – their farming child.
Farming is made up of two elements – money and labor. You can have all the money in the world you want to buy machinery, but if you don't have someone to run them, you're out of luck. Conversely, if you have enough labor, you can make do with a lot less machinery.
When someone doesn't step in to fill the labor necessary to run the operation – even with little chores like opening gates, running for parts, etc., etc. etc. like all farm women do – it puts those chores back on Mom and Dad's shoulders and can cause a lot of discontent with their in-laws. Everyone has a finite amount of labor built into their body and it drops dramatically from fifty to fifty-five, etc. It's the way of life.
The other issue with your child and in-law is they don't have children yet. In estate planning, this creates an issue. If you give property to your son on the farm, under state law it becomes half your daughter-in-law's. If you feel she hasn't 'earned it', you're going to feel real worried about handing this over to them. This can then sow seeds of discontent with your son because he thinks he has earned it and this is probably where he's coming from.
The other issue with married couples today is you don't get a real sense of the 'us' issue. I see a lot of young married couples today who say they are married, but they don't see it as an 'us' issue to farm. When they come in, I've seen where one partner will say 'If you want to farm and go into debt, go ahead, but it's not my problem'. I get the feeling these are two people who are married and both have separate careers independent of one another, but there's no 'us' in the family on the farm anymore.
The last issue is harder still to define and I think it has to do with our economic good times. I know there are farming kids out there who have farmed their entire adult lives who have never seen a bad time. Why? Because they didn't farm in the 80's when borrowing rates were 18%-20%, or in the 90's when wheat dropped to $2.80 a bushel with deducts for anything and everything, or when they sold off the dairy cows to Mexico or when they were killing calves because you couldn't afford to feed them for what they were selling for. Most of us who've been around thirty years or so remember these times and remember them well.
This generation has not been forged from iron into steel yet because they haven't been put through any fires hot enough yet.
The tragedy normally occurring here is the old saying 'One generation builds it, one generation enjoys it, and the next generation loses it'. That's an old, old, old saying – and it's been around a long time because it's true.
I have a tough time today telling if the old farmers today are the ones who built it or are the ones enjoying it. And I don't know if the next generation is the one who is enjoying it or are the ones to lose it. Many of them – to me, at least – just don't seem to feel it's their responsibility to do the things necessary today to make certain of the farm business in the future. They want to get the farm business – they just don't want to do everything it takes to make certain of it.
It's an odd side effect of long-term economic prosperity – you don't know what you had or how good you had it 'til it's gone.