Farm Succession Planning – A Process Worth 100 Acres or More…

Laurie Wolinski, Extension Agent,; Dan Severson, New Castle Co. Ag Agent, and Maria Pippidis, Extension Educator Family & Consumer Sciences,

Are you thinking about it? Are you talking about it? Are you making mental notes about it?

Regardless your response, there is no time like the present to begin or continue the conversation on Succession Planning.

Communication is a necessary step, and an important first step in the succession planning process. And yes, it is a process. But don’t shy away from that. Often times, “eating that elephant one bite at time” is the way to make a process seem less overwhelming. It also allows for a well thought out process. In regard to communication, sharing thoughts, concerns, and ideas among family members to preserve the land and legacy can provide an opportunity for reflection and understanding.

Consider the following example: Mom and Dad have 3 young adult sons, all of whom have some level of interest in farming, and all of whom have a college education related to agriculture. Son 1 has a degree in Ag Engineering and works on the family farm; Son 2 has a degree in Ag Education and works off the farm as a school teacher, but on the farm in summertime; Son 3 has a degree in Animal Science and works for a local poultry company. But the family has never discussed transferring the farm. The boys each, however, have had some “pipe dream” side bar conversations among each other in regard to the future of the farm. Do Mom and Dad even want the family farm to continue or do they want to sell the farm? Do they think any of the boys will be ready when the time comes for them to enter retirement? Can Mom and Dad afford to retire?

One way to begin this conversation is to Open the Lines of Communication. Each member of the family likely has a different view of what the future of the farm looks like. Consider using technology to help get some thoughts, feelings and ideas “on paper”. We would suggest initially focusing on one topic per week. For example, what is your favorite job on the farm, or what is favorite learning memory on the farm? Eventually the questions get a bit more substantive, for example, where do you see yourself in 10 years? Or, how many families do you think the farm should support?

  • Consider the use of shared documents (Google Docs, for example), where each family member has access to share ideas in a document that automatically saves when someone adds or edits. Each document is saved with a topic title.
  • Mom using her texting skills to text a question out to the family to gather input. Mom records all of these responses and shares the information.

This may be a simple technique to get a conversation started. There are many other steps involved in the communication process, for example learning about the individual and family goals for the future of the farm. Eventually, a successor will be decided. This all happens over time, so be prepared to be patient. This is why the succession planning process should begin early. There are personal feelings, finances, expectations, and relationships that need to be considered. For more information, please go the Farm Succession Planning Checklist on the UDCES website.