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Seven ways to upgrade how the family farm operates

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What’s on the minds of these McGill University students as they prepare to head home to the farm?

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Photo: Deb Deville Photo: Photo: Deb Deville

How could family farms improve the way they operate, and help integrate the next generation? These answers from our McGill students about their family farms might be exactly what your children are thinking too, but are too shy and respectful to say to your face.

Related: Knowledge: The next agricultural ‘commodity’

1. Improve labour management

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Photo: iStock Photo: Photo: iStock

Build a more defined work schedule and assign job responsibilities. Parents should get past their hesitation to hire help when it makes sense, one student said.
Another said his family often works 16- to 18-hour days and needs to be more conscious of time. “Eventually this puts a toll on our communication when everyone starts to get a little too tired and grumpy.”

Related: How good are your HR skills? Is it time to upgrade?

2. Define roles and jobs

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Photo: iStock Photo: Photo: iStock

On too many farms, our students said, “Everyone is in charge of everything and no one is in charge of one thing.” Jobs overlap, and opinions do too, sometimes leading to unnecessary inefficiency and friction.
It gets even more complicated in multi-generational contexts. “Being a three-generation farm means a lot of shareholders, which means people get into other people’s jobs.”

Related: It's two careers

3. Hold meetings

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Photo: Deb Deville Photo: Photo: Deb Deville

Using scheduled family meetings to improve communication and avoid misunderstandings should improve life quality. One student said that routine meetings would allow his family to have better communication to do work more efficiently and have fewer useless fights.
Defining roles is a good idea, but also knowing that you can help each other is useful, added another student.

Related: Three red flags to watch for on your farm

4. Recognize individual skill sets

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Photo: Deb Deville Photo: Photo: Deb Deville

One young man who is planning to work with his father on their farm is also learning about equipment and mechanics, so assuming he just wants to work with the cattle is limiting.

Related: Mentorships get real

5. Set goals

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One “la relève” student said his family needs to set up game plans for action. He’d like to see them set short-term goals and even put long-term plans in place, keeping them flexible but still useful as a decision guide.

Related: Plan before you retire

6. Embrace change

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Photo: Deb Deville Photo: Photo: Deb Deville

One of the students said her family needs to become less averse to change. “We need to stop doing things the old way,” she said. “That needs to change if we want to stay profitable.”

Related: What is holistic management?

7. Better financial recording

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Photo: iStock Photo: Photo: iStock

Several students said their families need to do better at recording and sharing financial information. “Our family needs to work harder on doing paperwork, from organizing it to getting it done on time,” said one student.

Related: Financial analysis and planning

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