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Family conflict in ag operations a challenge, says speaker

Family conflict in ag operations a challenge, says speaker at Farm and Ranch Days

Feb 13, 2014 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Among 21 other classes Wednesday at Fremont County Farm and Ranch Days covering aspects of agriculture such as pesticides, livestock nutrition and weather prediction was a session on a less-obvious but equally important topic: dealing with conflict on a family farm or ranch.

Tara Kuipers, an educator with the University of Wyoming Extension Office, told the six people in her class that families and businesses had different goals, and they can conflict with each other in a family farm or ranch. She highlighted the prevalence of that tension.

"If you've got a family, you're probably going to deal with conflict in some way," she said.

Outside the class room, about 125 people circulated among the 30 vendors. On display was everything from new tractors and pickup trucks down to bean seeds and consulting services.

In her class, Kuipers said resolving conflicts in family farms and ranches is important for passing operations on to younger generations. Many such transitions are unsuccessful, she said.

Financial tension

Kuipers said living with tight money is the top source of conflict in a family farm, based on a survey covering the Rocky Mountain region and the Midwest. Other sources included differing priorities, poor teamwork and not feelings of not being involved in decisions.

This year marked the 30th anniversary of Fremont County Farm and Ranch Days, a production of the Fremont County University of Wyoming Extension Office.

Extension sets the event in January or February when activity at agriculture operations slows, education coordinator Alex Malcolm said.

To address conflict, Kuipers said families should communicate, trust each other, and make time to focus on the family apart from the business.

She pointed to the case of her husband's family. Her oldest brother-in-law would soon be taking over her in-law's farm and ranch, she said. Her husband, his four brothers, their parents and their wives had been talking about the transition for 17 years, however.

When they get together, her mother-in-law also makes a point of cutting off the talk after two or three hours.

"My mother-in-law walks in and says, 'That's it!'" she said.

The six attendees of the class brought their own stories and shared advice as well.

Kuipers said the extension office has many resources on inheritance planning. She suggested farmers and ranchers talk with people they know who have passed on their operations successfully.

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