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GREED vs FAIR FAMILY PRICE

November 8, 2010
Written by: Elaine Froese


“I am leaving the farm business. I can’t take the indecision anymore. I was hoping for a fair ‘family’ price for buying out my Dad, but he wants ‘fair market value’”.  A long pause on the phone line, I as the coach am letting the silence do the heavy lifting (Susan Scott’s term). This farmer has invested almost 3 decades with his family business and now he is cutting his losses and leaving.


Greed is defined as an “excessive desire, especially for wealth or food.”

You may have your own definition of greed, and I am very sure you know a family story about the ill outcomes of excessive desire to control a farm or demand too much money from the next generation.


I see greed rear its ugly face when families cry out for support as they watch the non-farm siblings come home to roost after the death of the bachelor uncle. They are looking for their share of the gold with no regard for the sweat equity or intended roll-over to the younger business partner.


Fear of not having enough money after 75 is another common scenario, especially if the one holding the assets has a ‘rags-to-riches’ story. Even J.K. Rowling, the billionaire writer of the Harry Potter series confessed to Oprah that she still worries sometimes about money!


Many farm folks wish they had a pot of gold or a fairy god-mother to bestow more cash flow into the farm business after the tough weather disaster they’ve faced this year.


If you can’t increase revenues on the farm, then can you decrease expenses? Likely not much. Can you sell off assets that you don’t use or need?  Do you have to “buy out” some non-farm siblings?


How much is enough?

Most people don’t want to talk about greed. It’s one of those Undisscusabulls™ on farm teams. As a coach I ask the founders “how much money is enough?” They don’t like the question, and they usually don’t have a quick answer for me. If they are bound and determined to give all heirs the exact same amount of inheritance, it usually puts excessive pressure on the farm business to come up with the cash shortfalls to keep things even for each adult child. This is one of the tough issues in agriculture that we need to have more dialogue.


The numbers on the balance sheet are getting more zeros behind them. The quarter of land we purchased in l987 for $60,000 would now sell for $220,000. The tillage machine we demonstrated to smooth ruts in our water-logged fields is $60,000, called a super-coulter. I call that a super expensive investment to flatten a field!


The more zeros, the more greed. We may be asset rich in land and machinery, but families are stressed out with paying their current debt. They also aren’t paying attention to the high interest rates of credit card debt that is creating a huge burden of debt that is hard to climb out of.


We all need to play after working hard, but some toys for the boys are racking up the financial stress card. The ATV’s, boats, campers, snow machines are all for good fun, but has the debt load for things that don’t generate money gotten out of hand?

WHOA. No one is telling me I have to sell my boat Elaine! Okay, then what are you going to do to manage your debt and accumulate some savings to be able to mortgage a buy out of your father’s portion of the farm?  “Send my wife to work.”  She is already holding done two jobs and she can’t take the financial stress anymore.  Her opinion is that the whole farm team needs to sit down with a farm financial advisor and figure out what is making money, and what needs to go. She does the books and she knows there are few creative options left to get ahead, especially after the crop disaster we’ve seen in 2010.


“Okay, let’s sit down as a family and talk about our money issues. Is greed messing with our heads?” “Can the parents forgive some debt that is owed to them by the younger generation?”


1. What does money mean to you? For some farm dads I think it is a huge source of pride and validation. If they can’t call themselves the owners anymore, who are they? If they don’t have a half-million in the bank, they just don’t feel safe for the future. They don’t realize that fights about “fair family prices” may help them preserve the gold and yet loose the relationship with their farming son who will leave.


2. Are you being greedy or unrealistic in your market or selling expectations? You can get an objective neutral assessment from appraisers, accountants, or your farm management specialist.


3. How much money is enough? You have enough to enjoy your level of living or lifestyle.  You have enough to gift to your adult children and grandchildren, while you are alive. You have enough to give to charity.  Do you have enough to cover your extended health care costs, should you need personal health care? Not everyone ends up in the nursing home.


Some see money as a form of energy that should be flowing, not getting stuck in tight fists and creating family feuds. Talk about your sense of a “fair family price” for purchasing farm assets. Some non-business heirs may also be interested in investing in farm land and having sound rental agreements to the farming siblings.


There are choices and options to manage money well and without a lot of drama.


Remember, it is your farm, your family and your choice.


More stories can be found on her blog

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