WITH AN AGING farm population, it isn’t surprising that so many farm families are having the same conversation at the supper table. At least — the ones who are willing to talk about it.
I am, of course, referring to the issue of succession planning — who is going to take over the farm, when are they going to take control, and how will the farm be divided if multiple children are involved?
I come from a family farm and I know first-hand the necessity of having a plan in place. We started to work on ours 10 years ago when my son showed serious interest in having a role in our operation.
For many people though, knowing you should do something and actually doing it, are two very different things. Succession planning has always been a challenging issue given the people involved and the details that need to be discussed. Not everyone is comfortable discussing finances, expressing their feelings, or voicing their opinion on what they want. It isn’t always easy to speak up if you are worried about hurting your parents, your siblings, or your children.
Somehow, farm families have made succession work for generations — whether by design or by circumstance. When land was of little or no value, no one paid attention to who inherited the farm — those most interested stayed home. But now the issue of succession is more complicated than it used to be. High land values mean even if family members don’t have an interest in farming, they now have a significant interest in the farm.
That’s why I believe succession planning is more important than it has ever been in the history of farming. If we want to ensure that family continues to be a part of the family farm, we can’t become so mired down in the process that the decision becomes to sell the farm and dole out the proceeds.
An early start to the conversation — even before the younger generation returns from university or college — can pave the way for clear expectations and help clarify the concept of fairness. Your legacy doesn’t have to be boiled down to an equal division of assets.
I’ve heard many succession stories from our farmer-members, and some of those stories don’t have a good ending. Farmers often struggle to find the right resources and the right advisors to help them navigate their unique situation. We’ve dedicated this entire issue of the magazine to succession planning and I hope it helps you get the discussion started very quickly. •