Death of a Family Farm – Importance of Succession Planning

Death of a family farm – From Fast Company, Article by Kristina Johnson – Nov. 24, 2014

At the end of a road lined with the skeletons of old field equipment, Tony Azevedo sits in the living room of his white farmhouse and tells me not to expect much from his son Adam.

“He had a breakdown,” says the 62-year-old organic dairy farmer. “The Adam you met isn’t the Adam we raised.”

Family Dairy Farmer

But if the décor is charming, the farm’s soon-to-be empty pastures are not. Sixty years after Tony’s father started the Double T dairy in Stevinson, the 600 Azevedo cows are for sale, and Tony and his son aren’t speaking to each other. Neither man will walk the thousand yards that separates their two houses in order to make peace.

“I’m sure he thinks his dad let him down for selling out, and maybe it is my fault,” Tony says, pedaling the shag carpet in front of his recliner. “But I’d like to cock him one too.”

When I ask Tony what advice he might have for other dairy farmers in business with their kids, he aims his fingers at his head like a pistol and shoots.

It’s a gesture loaded with the frustration felt in many family businesses. Roughly 30% of American firms are family-owned, including top companies like Walmart, Mars, Inc. and Cargill. As parents reach retirement the transition of control and property to their children is so notoriously difficult that some families now call in professional “succession planners” to help avoid an all-out war. In family businesses across the country, it’s not uncommon for children to sue parents or for parents to write children out of the will.

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