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Keeping it in the family: Helping South Korean farmers pass down their success

May 01, 2018

Joseph Hyung-Il Jekal, a Cargill swine marketing manager, remembers the day he lost one of his key feed customers. The farmer of 30 years had caved to pressure, deciding to sell his land to a competitor nearby.

“I felt so helpless and couldn’t stop him from selling the farm,” he said. “We tried to come up
with a solution to help him, but it was too late.”

Jekal took that frustration and used it to help Cargill develop a program to encourage farmers to stay in the business and plan ahead to pass their business on to the next generation. Most farmers in South Korea are first generation and at a stage in their careers where they are thinking about retirement.

“It was too late to help my customer that was lost, but I hope we can help others,” he said.

Investing beyond the farm

In South Korea, Cargill serves farmers through independent dealers who sell our Purina® and Nutrena® feeds*. Those farmers can now get connected to a family business expert to discuss the long-term goals for their farm.

For Won-Pyo Hong, a Purina dealer in Ansung, this work is vital. As his first-generation feed customers age, he worries that the farms won’t continue when their children inherit the business.

Ansung is just 50 miles outside Seoul and rapidly urbanizing as the metro area grows. Small plots of land dot the city, sometimes bumping up to apartment buildings.

Hong says the next generation is tempted to sell off their land to developers, preferring to avoid the grueling livestock farming profession for another career. Through the next generation farming program, Hong is able to help families find ways to keep their farm and make a more smooth transition between generations. The meetings also help the next generation understand the value of trust and relationships with business partners that their fathers built. It would be easy for a new farmer to be attracted to cheaper feed, so it’s important to show the value of their family’s investments.

“When we talked to the family business expert, we learned it’s not just about handing down property,” Jekal said. “It’s about turning over tacit knowledge, social capital and philosophy to the next generation and keeping family bonds strong despite differences.”

Planning for the future

One of Hong’s customers, Kwang Yong Kim, met with the family business expert. His 29-year-old son, Tae Ho Kim, now holds the title of manager on their 4,000-head hog farm.

Tae Ho Kim said he hadn’t talked about the farm’s future until the meeting. They now have a succession plan in place even though his dad plans to run the farm for another 20 years. The meeting helped him better understand his dad, he said. The family did personality tests that revealed how similar their personalities are, which is why they often clash.

“We are both very thorough and precise, but he isn’t as flexible to change,” Tae Ho Kim said. The meetings also helped him find meaning in his job and see a future for himself, he said.

“I didn’t realize how important continuing my dad’s work would be,” he said. “He put so much into making the farm successful.”

* Outside the United States, Cargill licenses the Purina brand from Nestle Purina Petcare Co.