Coming home to the farm: setting up for success

Family members looking to return to work on the farm can present an opportunity to build a positive future; whether it is a child, sibling, cousin or another relative, focusing on the people side of the business will be instrumental in setting up for success

Image of a school crossing sign

Farm children cannot be taken for grained when it comes to succession planning and roles and responsibilities.

PHOTO: Brad Collis

There is no excuse to go soft on process if an employee is a family member, in fact it can be even more necessary because, as the saying goes, familiarity can breed contempt. And the last thing you want is to have a business constrained because of people issues or attitudes.

Key messages

  • People management relates to family members working in the business as much as it does to external employees.
  • Documented plans for the future of the people working in the business provide a clear path for careers and business opportunities.
  • Well-defined roles and appropriate responsibilities are just as crucial for family members as they are for external employees.
  • Working with people’s strengths and areas of interest and matching them to appropriate roles encourages a positive working environment and helps keep people motivated and engaged.

The Australian Farm Institute Farm Policy Journal, winter 2015 issue, ‘Labour matters in Australian agriculture’, identifies ways to improve human resource practices. In particular, the use of more formal practices and procedures is recognised as important for communicating roles and responsibilities, wage rates and remuneration, as well as the potential for career development.

In particular, clear roles and responsibilities help create a greater chance of ‘job fit’: so take time to think about why you need someone and what they will do.

Outlining specific roles and responsibilities for individuals will help determine your expectations and ensure everyone involved has a clear understanding of how the different positions fit together to form a team. This information can be captured in a position description and should include:

  • job title;
  • a summary of the role and how it fits into the business;
  • tasks and responsibilities;
  • personal qualities;
  • reporting structures and working relationships;
  • expectations, such as production targets; and
  • whether the position is full-time, part-time or casual.

Case study:

Putting plans in place

Adapted from the GRDC’s A Guide To Farm Labour

Succession diagram

A farming family tree.

A farming family in central-west New South Wales put plans in place early to ensure a smooth transition for their sons to return to the farming operation full-time. At that point, the eldest son was undertaking further study and the youngest was away at boarding school.

The parents involved their farm consultant, solicitors and accountant when planning for the future. They focused on getting the business structure right and ensuring a range of expansion and succession scenarios were explored.

By the time the youngest son was ready to come back to the farm, the eldest had an established role in the business. The intention was for the brothers to take over the farm and allow their parents to semi-retire.

The initial plan was revisited by the whole family with their independent farm consultant. Each son expressed interest in different parts of the business. One was keen on the machinery and operations side of the business while the other was more interested in the financials, budgeting, monitoring and commodity marketing.

Management roles and accountabilities were established based on the sons’ natural interests, which helped them focus on expanding the business over the next 18 months.

The sons’ wives attended meetings and helped set the goals and roles for everyone in the business and reinforced the initial business and succession plans.

The importance of having a mix of skills in the business was evident in this case, along with seeking assistance from people with agricultural experience to help set and revisit longer-term plans.


Family members' roles in the farm business and their expectations versus reality
Who Role in the farm business
What they thought would happen
Lessons learned
Father  Part-time I thought the boys would have a few bravado battles to begin with.
 There was a natural fit for each son in the business and having clear work areas and responsibilities meant the business grew quickly.
Mother  No longer involved
I was very much looking forward to moving into town.
 It was important for our sons' wives to feel part of the family business. I had to push hard for it. Planning ahead made all the difference.
Son 1
 Full-time It would be good to have another full-timer on the farm keen to work and get ahead.
 It was a natural progression and we both focused on running different aspects of the business.
Daughter-in-law 1
 Casual The workload would be spread around a bit more.
I'm an accountant by trade so it made sense to use those skills in the family business.
 Son 2
 Full-time I was looking forward to applying some of the stuff I've learned to the business.
 We were able to get into a routine pretty quickly and because hte business expanded rapidly I handed over the book work to my brother's wife.
Daughter-in-law 2
 Not involved
 Feeling a bit nervous for my husband because his personality is very different to his brother's.
He spends a lot of time on-farm and I guess it's for our benefit in the end, although he misses out on some things with the kids.


Nettle, R (2015), ‘More Than Workforce Shortages: How Farm Human Resources Management Strategies Will Shape Australia’s Agricultural Future’, Farm Policy Journal, vol. 12, no. 2, pp. 17–27.

More information:

Catherine James, ORM,

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