Four Generations, One Solution

November 28, 2012 09:15 AM
Four Generations, One Solution

For the first time, farm families are facing the challenges—and reaping the rewards—of four generations working on the farm.

Age diversity can be a tremendous asset when there is open communication. Conversely, the lack of communication, intolerance of different ideas and absence of a strategic plan can wreak havoc on any operation.

"Each generation has unique
talents that can be leveraged to benefit the operation and give it a competitive advantage."

Defining the Differences. Each generation has its own core beliefs, values, goals and principles. Understanding these differences along with efficient communication is critical to the success of a multigenerational farm operation. Let’s identify and define the four different generations.

Matures are 67 years and older, born in 1945 or before. Baby boomers are 47 to 66 years of age,  born from 1946 to 1965. Generation X is 32 to 46 years of age, born between 1966 and 1980. Generation Y, 12 to 31 years old, was born between 1981 and 2000.

These generations grew up in very different environments. Each generation is shaped by the experiences, challenges and opportunities of its time. These experiences contribute to how we work, play and communicate. Our problem-solving methods tend to be unique to the generation we grew up with, as well. Our solutions for dealing with our work and personal lives are also unique to our generation. This might be problematic for some farm operations as leadership roles are transferred from one generation to the next and as operations grow. Those who are responsible for hiring employees will benefit from understanding these differences.

Additionally, the aging population within production agriculture presents unique challenges for many operations. With the average age of farmers approaching 60, the upcoming transition to younger family members, employees and partners could present challenges. Strong profits for the past few years have encouraged many older producers to continue to farm. When the ag economy turns and profit margins decline, the motivation to farm could quickly diminish.

Sharing Shoulders. Another challenge for the aging population involves the rapid advancements in technology. Many senior producers are interested in the technology, but when it comes to actually putting it to use they are dependent upon the younger generations.

Likewise, the younger generations are dependent on the older generations. Years of accumulating equity have given the matures and baby boomers a much stronger financial position than the X and Y generations. As production risks increase, the younger generations might need to lean on the capital reserves of the more established generations.

In the next several years, agriculture will change at the most rapid pace in history. The economy, technology, weather, cost of production, market opportunities, government regulations/programs and a host of other unknowns will challenge every operation. It will be important to understand the numbers behind each of these factors.

The best solutions will come from the operations that have the most effective communication within their multigenerational families, employees and partners. Each generation has unique talents that can be leveraged to benefit the operation. Incorporating this knowledge within your operation can give you a significant competitive advantage. Ultimately, it might be the one trick to maximizing your profitability and securing the future of your family farm.



Chris Barron is director of operations and president of Carson and Barron Farms Inc. in Rowley, Iowa. He is also a farm business consultant and the author of the blog "Ask a Margins Expert." To submit questions and comments, e-mail Chris at to  leverage generational differences in the workplace. Register for the Top Producer Seminar, Jan. 30–Feb. 1 in Chicago, Ill.

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