At a very young age, Leona Dargis, from St. Vincent, Alberta learned to love both agriculture and life. Her parents, the late Jean & Joanne Dargis, taught her, and her four younger sisters how powerful combination of education and enthusiasm can be in moving not only the agricultural industry forward but truly living life to its fullest.
A graduate of the Bachelor of Applied Science – Agribusiness Major at Olds College in Alberta, Leona has quickly become known across Canada as an exceptional young leader. She was elected as a board member on the Canadian Young Farmers Forum in 2006, an organization that promotes the exchange of ideas, while fostering collaboration between young and future farmers of Canada. She is also a Next Generation (NG) trustee for the Royal Agricultural Society of the Commonwealth (RASC) and was asked to present a paper at the 2008 biennial RASC conference in New Zealand where she had the honour of speaking with Her Royal Highness Princess Anne.
As a result of my experience in dealing with my parents’ estate over the last five years, it sparked two interests of mine. The first was that every family should take the opportunity to have the ‘what if’ discussions and the second was the willingness and drive of the next generation is stronger than what the agricultural industry gives them credit for.
To say the least, I was an eager 25 year old applicant for the Nuffield Canada selection committee to consider; passionate towards learning about how the next generation is going to change our future in agriculture and what we need to do to enable them to be successful.
The aim of this report is to educate all members in the agricultural industry to better understand the next generation and recognize the importance of taking a proactive approach towards succession planning. This report is a documentation of my experiences and observations accompanied by a few key learnings and some recommendations to strengthen family farms across Canada.
My approach was to visit family farms around the world which would be considered similar in nature to Canada so that the lessons learned would have optimum relevance. In addition, I visited developing countries as a result of my volunteer position as a next generation trustee on the Royal Agricultural Society of the Commonwealth (RASC). I am grateful to have travelled to New Zealand, Australia, United States, Singapore, India, United Kingdom, Zambia, Tanzania, and Kenya. I valued these experiences for adding a dynamic perspective to my study.
Sometimes I used an interview-style technique and others were simple conversations that took place at the kitchen table or in the farm ‘ute’ (truck) during a farm tour.
I learned a lot from the countless discussions with farm families and as a result I took note of these important points.
- Education is necessary and taken for granted.
- The next generation is globally connected.
- ‘City Slickers’ make good farmers too.
- Communication is the foundation to strong relationships and businesses.
- Succession is change.
- Change is good; you need to want it for it to happen.
- Discuss what is in your Will with your family.
- What is fair is not necessarily equal.
- Conflict is a risk management tool.
- Diversity builds strength.
- The parenting generation needs to be decisive about retirement.
- The next generation needs to grow the business.
- Families can work together.
- It is ok to hire outside help, like an advisor/mediator.
- Collaborating on a common vision is necessary.
- Farm yard bullying is an unfortunate reality.
- Treat others the way you would like to be treated.
- Learn from the succession mistakes of others.
- Women are as capable as men.
- Perseverance is a virtue.
- Attitude is everything.
- Do what you love and love what you do.
- Be prepared to give more than you receive.
- Remember, life is short so why not make the most of it!
1. Farm families need to be proactive towards the process of developing a successful succession plan. Communication is mandatory and this includes discussing what is in your Will with all parties involved. Developing a business plan including vision and goals will help clarify future direction of the business. Developing a retirement plan for the parenting generation includes discussing how and to whom the ownership and management responsibilities will transfer to meanwhile recognizing the financial support needed for the retirees. Learning how to work collaboratively will strengthen your relationships and legacy. If you haven’t done so already, the time to begin the succession process is now. The first step is wanting to.
2. Everything about farming has evolved; and I expect that it will continue to evolve for as long as we live. We are no longer the poor peasant farmer. We are innovative entrepreneurs who are educated and experienced. We manage large and small scale operations with the use of genetic engineering and technological advancements. We are consumers of what we produce on this planet. No matter what our ethnicity, agriculture provides diverse opportunities for anyone to be a part of, organic or commercial. If the Canadian agricultural industry wants to be strong, we need to encourage and promote diversity while continuing to foster a supportive and successful environment.
3. Organizations that support the next generation can have a significant impact in today’s society. Our younger demographic are savvy when it comes to accessing information on the internet. However the influential initiatives that have been created to promote sustainability, raise agricultural awareness and develop national/global networks are the ones that truly deserve the support from important stakeholders such as government, community and most importantly industry. As a result of my study, Canada does a poor job at supporting the next generation, especially when it comes to international learning experiences.
4. Take the time to listen to and appreciate each other’s perspectives, both on farm and off. Try not to be so judgmental and try to find a way to work together. Being successful in life has a lot to do with fostering healthy relationships. Living a life full of happiness is better than not, so why not live the life you want and love the life you live!