I hope I haven’t fatigued you too much with my recent series on the fundamental shifts in agriculture. We conclude this week with number 6 –the shifting relationships with landlords, locals, and lenders. As one generation retires and the next one takes the helm, one of the most significant shifts in agriculture will be how effectively relationships adapt to this change. From landowners to landlords, local banks to local cooperatives, the landscape is evolving about where and who we do business with—or without.
Landlords: We’ve already addressed changes in land ownership coming as many growers exit the business. But this also relates to landowners, either those we currently rent from or those we will be renting from in the near future. If the average age of growers is over 58, many of you rent from landowners that average age 88! We know the landowner’s heirs are two, or even three, generations removed from the land, and they may have very different views about agriculture than we do.
How much training has your next generation had with negotiation skills and contract development? Handshake deals between farmers and landowners no longer work when there is no longer a person down the road, we can shake hands with. The time to begin transferring the relationship management of this critical aspect of your business is now. Do you and your successors know who will inherit the land you currently rent? Have you met with them? More importantly, has your son or daughter?
Locals: Many of us already face situations where we no longer know our neighbors. More than ever before, our farming decisions are at risk of being scrutinized by uninformed locals, and some of us also already faces resistance from fellow farmers, especially if livestock expansion is a consideration.
In your operation today, who handles public relations? Are you currently the only face of the brand with neighbors, zoning boards, and community groups? If so, that’s a risk that can and should be mitigated sooner rather than later. Sometimes, especially when we’ve been in a community for a long time, there are old wounds. So, in addition to creating new relationships, your next CEO should be working her magic to build bridges and expand community support for your operation.
Lenders: The third shifting relationship is the one with your banker. Many innovative growers and ranchers today have already outgrown the size of their local banks and work with a financial representative who is states away and visits infrequently. Does that representative personally know your “next in line”? Has your young leader already established credit with them? And, does that relationship feel like a partnership?
If it hasn’t happened already, it won’t be long before your banker is your son or daughter’s age, not yours. Once considered pillars of the community, today, local banks are becoming relatively rare. If you still have a quality local bank in your town, consider yourself fortunate—and take a good look at them. The likelihood of your banker being a neighbor is certainly a lot lower in most rural areas today, and it’s going to become even less.
These shifts open up new doors and the opportunity to form new strategic relationships that can help both growers and suppliers stay in business. As some growers exit the day-to-day management of farming, agricultural land is naturally up for grabs. Will that property be sold or developed? Either way, it’s an opportunity for the well-positioned grower to expand via rent or ownership. The best way to capitalize on opportunities is to prepare younger generations to be involved in strategic relationships now.
ACT Like A Pro Out There!
-Sarah Beth Aubrey