During March, we held a great two-day workshop in Wooster, Ohio, to help farm families plan for the eventual transfer of their farm business to the next generation.
During this program, we helped producers analyze the essential questions to answer when planning for successful farm transitions.
While many farmers dream of seeing their legacy passed on to the next generation, many postpone initiating a plan for the transition of their business for a variety of reasons. Many claim that there is not enough time to discuss these matters.
Or, if planning does occur, it simply involves the senior generation drafting a will describing how the farm assets should be divided among heirs. Each farm family is different in regard to its goals for transition planning.
Family dynamics, physical resources, financial position, and managerial styles vary from operation to operation. As farmers plan to transfer the family business to the next generation, there are a myriad of decisions to be made.
One of the most difficult is determining how to be fair to off-farm heirs without jeopardizing the future of the heirs who have remained with the family business.
Other decisions include deciding who will manage the business in the future, how to distribute assets, how and when the senior generation will retire, and how the business will deal with the unexpected.
So has your family discussed the future of your farm business? Five years ago, our dairy farm was rolling along nicely and then my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. My dad fought a courageous battle against this disease for seven weeks before passing away.
His diagnosis came right during planting season which is one of the busiest times on a farm.
Two of the major questions I pose in our farm transition workshops are: “What knowledge would you need to pass on if you knew you had only two months to live?” and “How would your farm react to the loss of the principle operator?”
As you jump in the tractor this spring, I challenge you to think about the future of your farm. Many of us do our best thinking in the tractor, so challenge yourself to think about what knowledge and skills need to be transferred to the next generation so they can be successful without you.
I have often said the senior generation should “play possum” during planting or harvest season. What does this mean? Just as an opossum plays dead, so too should the principle operator.
Take an unannounced week away from the farm during one of the busiest times of the year for your farm and allow the junior generation to take over with no communication from the senior generation.
I know this sounds crazy but how else will you know what knowledge and skills need to be transferred?
It is a lot easier to come back after a short vacation and be able to answer the questions your son or daughter has. You won’t have this opportunity when you pass away.
Outside of using the opossum approach, it should be the goal of the senior generation to transfer at least one knowledge point or skill to the next generation each day. In fact, have you asked the next generation what they need to be schooled up on?
It is a great idea to ask the next generation what additional responsibilities they believe they should be taking on and what changes they would like to see made for them to be successful in the future.
Have you completed a skills assessment with each son or daughter to see what training they need to be successful in the future?
Over the next year, OSU Extension will be offering a series of these two-day workshops across Ohio. If you are interested in attending, email me at email@example.com and I will put your name on our list to receive information about the locations of these workshops.
Our team also has a series of fact sheets on farm transition planning, which can be accessed at: http://ohioline.osu.edu/bst-fact/index.html.
To close this column, I would like to share a quote J Burrows, who stated, “I still find the days too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all of the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see.”
Have a good and safe day!
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