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Introduction TCMW February 2011

Since I first heard about “farm succession” about 11 years ago, I have watched industry stakeholders, concerned more with the loss of personal wealth, warn of the dangers of failing to plan. “Start today,” they caution (and rightly so) “because the bigger the family, the larger the farm, the greater the challenge of peaceable succession.”


February 3, 2011
By Ralph Pearce

Since I first heard about “farm succession” about 11 years ago, I have watched industry stakeholders, concerned more with the loss of personal wealth, warn of the dangers of failing to plan. “Start today,” they caution (and rightly so) “because the bigger the family, the larger the farm, the greater the challenge of peaceable succession.”

But I have always wondered how you might compensate for losing expertise and knowledge rather than the wealth. The ideal situation would be that Mom and Dad may stay on the farm, but they are still available to help Junior or daughter Susan and her husband.

More profound sense of loss
Still, what happens when that loss is permanent? When the opportunity to pick up the phone or drive up the laneway is gone?

That was my question after learning that Western agriculture lost a great friend with last month’s passing of John Harapiak. Although I never had the pleasure of meeting John, I came to know his relaxed and casual manner through his articles in Top Crop Manager and his dealings on the phone or in e-mail exchanges. His simplification of complex issues seemed effortless, and always as though he was sitting across the kitchen table or leaning against the wheel of the tractor, his expertise and his smile equally helpful and assuring.

I felt much the same sense of loss at the passing last spring of Dr. Gary Ablett, a soybean breeder and a professor at the University of Guelph. We were not close personal friends, but Gary’s knowledge and his willingness to help were as steady as they were reliable.

Their memories live on, but not without feeling that “something’s missing.” I can be in the middle of a task and see a picture of them or read their name in a story, and it gives me pause to think of them, and others, who are gone now. I remember them, their smile or their effect on others, and it makes me wonder: If only…?

What would be different?

“If only I knew it was the last time I would see him or her, how would I have behaved?”

Would I have smiled and said simply, “It’s good to see you”?

Might I have asked, “How are you doing?” – hoping she’d tell me everything, and that this time, I’d want to hear it all? Would I say, “Take care” – and mean it more than usual?

I picture John and Gary, and two others I lost around Christmas, and it is hard to fathom the notion that I’ll never see them again. I see their pictures, I talk to others who have been blessed with their friendship or their wisdom and experience, and there’s still hope, however slight, that somehow, Gary or John – or Bruce or Lesley  – will come strolling casually back into the middle of a conversation, assuring me that it was all a misunderstanding, or a small joke that we can laugh at.

If only I had known that last lunch we shared, or that quick and passing handshake at the farm show was the last time I’d see them, would I have had the courage to tell them what they meant to me? How much I’ve valued their insights and thoughts? Or how often I’ve told others about them? Would I have reminded them of those few, well-chosen words they added to a chat, weeks or months or years ago, and the effect they had on my relationship with someone else, or that they helped me in my career?

If only I had known, I might have held on to that handshake for a moment longer, or held that embrace a little tighter. If only I had known then, their absence now might not be so difficult; I’d have known there was nothing left to say or show that I hadn’t shared already.

“If only I had known . . . ,” it might not be so hard to let them go now.

I guess it isn’t only the knowledge we miss out on.

Thank you, John, and Gary.


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