The Role of Technology on Family Farm Succession
By Lance Woodbury, 07.27.2016

Succession in a family business is hard work – perhaps harder than the normal, daily work required to run the business itself.  Transferring the senior generation’s years of experience and knowledge, and developing skills and strengths in the next generation, all while managing the emotional dynamics of family members working together, is flat-out overwhelming. Add to that the transfer of ownership among on and off-farm heirs, the consolidation of the industry, and the current economic climate, and more than a few families wonder if the effort is worth the reward.

For those who choose to continue the business legacy through engaging in succession planning, technology offers a host of compelling benefits, both from a business management standpoint, and family dynamics. I’ve listed a few for your consideration:

1. Modeling business scenarios as a way to objectively evaluate decisions. With all of the systems that capture data, it is becoming easier to take last season’s financial, market, agronomic, labor and weather data to create models, budgets and scenarios of how future years might look. While agriculture is an unpredictable endeavor, you can more easily evaluate potential future outcomes, and begin to add a sense of certainty and objectivity into the planning process. This also offers a glimpse into how different generations might try to solve problems or take advantage of opportunities, leading ultimately to greater confidence and a sense of direction in the business transition process.

2. Analyzing data to understand the factors that really drive performance. In prior decades, knowledge of what drives performance was often handed down from prior generations as a set of guidelines or best practices. But with software like Granular, the data generated and collected helps to institutionalize – and even sometimes refute – knowledge handed down from parents and grandparents. Analyzing the data together formalizes and furthers the goal of transmitting knowledge from the senior generation’s head into the minds of future generations.

3. Communicating across geographies to keep people on the same page and gather input. When you consider the people who have an interest in your farm, the numbers add up quickly. Family members, employees, land owners, vendors, and advisors all have an interest in knowing what’s going on on your farm. Through constantly evolving communication and reporting platforms, it becomes easier to share news, financial information, crop progress and even instructions. A robust communication process leads to a more seamless transfer of knowledge between parties, which in turn smoothes the succession process.

In the world of family business succession and planning, to “facilitate” means “to make easier.” Technology, while not always easy to adopt at the beginning (and change the behaviors that go with said successful adoption), can be a tremendous facilitator once implemented. Consider how you might be able to take advantage of new technologies to advance succession in your ag family business.

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