According to USDA’s 2014 Census of Agriculture, 97 percent of the 2.1 million farms in the United States are family owned and operated. Unfortunately, the trend for the last few years has been one of decline as younger generations are either heading for “greener pastures” or do not have the means to take over their family’s operation.

I have been working on my family’s 1,200-acre farm in eastern Washington for my entire life. I attended college at the University of Oregon and received a bachelor’s degree in journalism with an emphasis in advertising. I then returned to the farm to help my dad operate the family business. I’m involved in the day-to-day operations of the farm, including employee management, marketing and promotion, inventory tracking, field scouting, and much more.

We produce high-quality alfalfa and timothy hay that is sent all over the world. The possibilities are endless as to where it will ultimately end up after being baled and put in the stack. It could be put on a truck and delivered to a Canadian retail feed store. Possibly, it might be put on a truck destined for a local pressing facility, be processed, and then placed in a shipping container and sent off to the Middle East, Japan, or China. It really depends on the quality of the product, the desires of the market, and what our hay buyers need to fill their quota.

It’s not always easy

Anyone who works with family will tell you that it can be hard, but it can also be extremely rewarding. Every day presents a new challenge, experience, and memory with no two days going exactly the same. People always tell me how lucky I am to work with my family and how easy it must be. No, it’s not always easy, but I feel blessed beyond words that I am able to see and work next to my family members every single day. Some of my best memories with my dad have happened during the workday. There are days that go smoothly when everything falls into place, and then there are the times that you just want to go home and forget the day ever happened.

Making high-quality hay is wrought with stress, but doing so with family adds another layer of complexity. Here are six things that I have learned about working with family:

1. Business is business and family is family. Simply put, don’t take things to heart when something goes awry. “Employer dad” is looking out for the success of the business, and if on occasion there are tempers that flare, I know it’s not personal. After the dust settles, there is usually something to be learned.

2. Constantly communicate, listen, and learn. The best way to learn is by seeking out those who know more about something than you do. Be willing to sit, listen, and ask questions to those who are experienced around you. Proper communication is the key to having a positive working relationship with your family. Sometimes it may be the hardest thing that you do during the day, but with proper communication, any task can be made easy.

3. Things are different when you work for family. There is a huge difference between working for someone else and working for family. With family, you are often held to a higher standard with the expectation that work will be performed at a high level. At the same time, you often are given more responsibility. Embrace the challenge.

4. Work hard and stay humble. The best things in life aren’t handed to you, they are earned. This is done through hard work, dedication, and a showcase of passion for what you are doing. Show up to work every single day with a positive attitude and a willingness to work. Take pride in every task that you do as every single one plays a role in the efficient operation of the business.

5. Cherish every moment. Always remember to tell your family how much you appreciate them after a long workday. You may have disagreed and been annoyed all day long, but at the end of the day, sit around the table and talk. Talk about the weather, life, sports, or anything your heart desires. Cherish the moments that you have because you never know what the future will bring.

6. Learn to manage your time. When you are at work, make the most of your time to be productive and efficient. When you are at home, try to block out your work as much as possible. This is sometimes difficult considering a large majority of the day is spent at work, but there needs to be some separation of the two worlds.

While working with family may be one of the hardest things I have done in my life, it has also been the most rewarding. There is nothing in life more important than family and no better feeling than what comes with a successful family business.

This article appeared in the August/September 2017 issue of Hay & Forage Grower on page 16.

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