The Moes family began milking cows in South Dakota in 1884. The fourth generation, Jim and Greg joined the operation in the early 1970s. What was once a 200-cow dairy is now a 2,000-cow dairy, a farming operation and a trucking company. Three of their sons have come back to the farm to transition into ownership; something Greg says took a lot of discussion, planning and preparation.
On MoDak Dairy, the Moes say their children have been learning about the operation since they were kids. “Preparing to take over the farm is something that happens as you go through,” Greg explains. “From little kids, all the way up you learn.”
Once their kids were grown, the Moes made them work for someone else, which Greg says is extremely important. Not only did their sons learn to work with others, but working off the farm broadens perspective and helps the next generation to realize what they truly want.
“At the end of the day what you enjoy is what you come back to,” he says.
While none of the Moes have been to college, Greg says they have made it a priority to send their returning children to workshops and seminars to prepare them for taking over ownership.
Having the skills necessary to become the farm owner is something the younger generations often overlook, according to David Marrison, associate professor and extension agent at The Ohio State University.
“We are really good at looking at the older generation and analyzing what they haven’t done,” he says. “Are we taking the time to look at ourselves? Do we have the skills necessary to be successful?”
He advises young people interested in taking over the family farm to do a S.W.O.T. analysis of themselves to discover the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to the business should they become a manager.
“You need to make a plan,” he says. “What do you need to learn to take over and how will you do that? What is the barrier keeping you from becoming the farm manager?”
Marrison says in some cases, that might be a lack of knowledge about a computer program like QuickBooks, which can be easily remedied by taking a class at a local community college.
The younger generation needs to learn more than hard skills to take over ownership. They must also learn to be leaders.
“In addition to teaching how to manage the daily operations of the business, successful transitions require passing on the ‘strategic smarts’ and ‘strategic thinking skills’ to the successor,” says Danny Klinefelter, Texas A&M University economist and Farm Journal Legacy Project Advisory Panel member. “To be successful as a CEO, the successor also has to learn to become a leader, not just a manager.”
The Moes have sent their sons to several leadership courses and short courses on such topics as working well with others.
It’s never too soon to start investing in the younger generation’s ability to lead, according to Marrison.
“You don’t know how long you have,” he says. “What are you doing today to improve the skills of the next generation so they are prepared to lead when it comes time for ownership transition?”