The rising value of farmland has put an even greater strain on the often-thorny issue of passing on the family farm.
“The extra zeroes in farmland values bring out the best and the worst in people,” said Darrell Wade, speaking to a workshop on farm succession at the recent annual meeting of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture in Hamilton.
Wade speaks from experience. He grew up in a family that operated a successful cattle operation east of Toronto. But then a double tragedy struck. His brother lost an arm in a farm accident and soon after, his father died suddenly after a routine hospital test, without a plan for passing on the family business.
“As successful as my father was, he failed to think about the consequences of not planning. It started the next day when we sat around the kitchen table and I started arguing with my mother and sisters.”
Wade said dealing with the financial chaos after his father’s death and the rift in the family prompted him to change careers in 2000 and start a consulting firm, Farm Life Financial, in partnership with Mike D’Alessandro.
“I swore I would spend the rest of my life making sure farm families didn’t go through what my family did.”
Wade said there are obvious issues that can cause friction in farm succession, including ceding control to a younger generation, ensuring the older generation has adequate retirement income and providing for siblings not involved in the farm.
But he said there are unexpected problems that crop up such as marital breakdown, interference from the spouses of siblings and selling off land or assets.
Wade said those issues often make farm families reluctant to sit down and have a frank talk.
He said bringing in a neutral party, such as a consultant, can help families communicate, come up with a mutually-agreeable plan and avoid big legal fees and even court battles.