South Dakota Grassland Coalition

by Garnet Perman

July 2019

Coming into a ranch/ farm business from a non-agricultural background presents additional relationship challenges because in addition to adjusting to married life, the newbie is also assimilating to a new community, a new family, and a very different lifestyle. This article contains the collective wisdom of several “town girls” who made this adjustment. Usually it’s a young lady making the transition, but the basic principles can also apply to young men joining their wife’s family operation.

• Understand that love of the land is deeply embedded in the person you are promising to spend your life with. You will never compete with it. Trying to do so will result in heated discussions.

• You will likely spend much time with the family you are marrying into. A multi-generational ranch family is a team in a way most other families are not. Determine to be a team player.

• Attitude is everything. Agriculture is a boom and bust business. Bust times are difficult emotionally as well as financially. Day-to-day experiences can be aggravating. Everybody whines about the weather. Learn to find something positive in all situations and cultivate a sense of humor.

• Communicate. Communicate! Communicate!! Learn how to disagree without being disagreeable. Ask questions. What will your contribution to the operation look like? What is your mode of operation? Organized? Detailed? Big picture? Go, go, go? Will you work off-farm? Does your prospective spouse want you to work with them in the operation? Do you have the necessary skills to do so? Is your spouse willing/able to teach you? What exactly do those hand signals mean? Is there a succession or business plan that includes the new couple? If not, why not? A failure to plan is a big red flag that can result in long term emotional and financial heartache. Evaluate often how the plan is working.

• Embrace frugality. For people that didn’t grow up on the farm the adjustment to agricultural cash flow or lack thereof is difficult. Where home improvement is considered a financial investment in town, “the house doesn’t make money” is a common refrain in ranch country. Stay abreast of the ranch’s financial situation if managing the books isn’t part of your job description. Meet with the banker and accountant as a couple.

• Isolation and the loneliness that accompanies it are part of rural living. Figuring out how to deal with it is crucial. Join a church or civic organization. Volunteer to coach a team, help with 4-H or other youth pro-gram. You’ll make friends faster. Few young people may live in the area; don’t overlook friendships with older people. They are vital sources of wisdom, know-how, empathy and encouragement. Fast food, retail shopping and big ticket cultural events are far away. Make peace with these being occasional treats.

• Assimilation into rural communities takes years. It may be decades before you are no longer introduced as Joe Smith’s daughter-in-law or Joe Smith Jr.’s wife. Getting involved in the community and/or ag related organizations will also help make the cultural shift. People love somebody who is willing to pitch in and help. You have much to offer in terms of energy and fresh insight, so long as it isn’t offered with an arrogant attitude.

• Educate yourself. Attend educational events with your spouse. Read agricultural publications. Find a subject that interests you and pursue it. You will develop into a go-to person on that topic.

• The on-farm family can help or harm the adjustment. Be willing to explain or demonstrate even what seems most obvious. Keep your mouth shut when tempted to laugh because the newbie got lost or be angry if a gate didn’t get closed. Be patient, kind, and encouraging.

Enjoy the journey! The learning curve is steep, but so very worth the effort!

Check out these Amazing Grassland Videos that might help with your adjustment.

Source: SDGC Newsletter

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