My wife always tells me that chocolate is my weakness. It was that particular reason I was excited to visit Hershey, Pennsylvania, for the Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Conference last month. More importantly, it was the wealth of knowledge there that made things exciting.

Naturally, the sessions focused on best practices in production. However, the most intriguing aspect was the focus of business planning. It’s often said that business owners have the quagmire of balancing the act of working on the business versus working in the business. Couple that with the dynamic of having a family business and things can get confusing and stressful very quickly.

In her keynote speech at the conference, family farm consultant Elaine Froese focused on the main component that plagues most family farms: communication (or lack thereof). A point she stressed was the importance of building relationships before delving into the business talk.

Froese said the biggest challenges facing family farms are divorce and poor management. Conventional wisdom tells us that most relationships fail due to a lack of communication. Having those avenues cleared for the tough conversations are important. Froese gave some examples of – as she described – the “Undiscussabulls”:

  • Explaining more effectively why certain decisions/family decisions are made
  • Decreasing anxiety over the uncertainty of the future
  • Expressing thoughts more effectively
  • Better understanding of how to build trust
  • Becoming a better listener

One thing I’ve learned in the military is the first step to fixing a problem is admitting there is a problem. Expressing your worries and concerns goes a long way in righting the ship whether it’s your farm, family or both. I know in my household that upsetting the spouse is definitely not good for business. I highly recommend you visit Elaine Froese’s blog ( to view her insight on building better conflict communication.

We also want to hear from you about your concerns and worries in your farm operations. What challenges are you facing with your business? And how are you doing with regard to producing a remedy? We’re looking forward to hearing your examples. Until next time, cheers!

Correction: In our New York Farm Show preview in the February issue, there was a reference made to a John Deere 4440 tractor that was incorrectly stated as “John Deere 444”. We apologize for the error.