Will your farm business outlast you?


When Keith and I got married, the idea of making plans for our deaths was the last thing on our minds. Even after we purchased our starter home, we neglected to make a will. And, I hate to admit it, but it was after the purchase of our second home and the birth of our second child (seven years after we walked down the aisle) before we met with an attorney to create a simple will and guidelines for the care of our children in the event of our deaths.

In retrospect, we were pretty naive (OK, “stupid” is a better word).

And yet in every farming community, probably half of the farm owners fail to make plans for the transfer of their farm.

“It’s procrastination,” explains Dave Dowler, farm management agent with the Cooperative Extension Service in Crawford County, Pa. “I’ll put it off until tomorrow.”

It’s also tough to find an adviser or attorney you’re comfortable working with and trust. Estate planning is a complex issue, an emotional issue, and an issue that forces families to talk – to really communicate – about a difficult subject.

Discussing farm finances is a huge barrier to retirement or estate planning, especially if the farm itself is the vehicle through which a producer plans to finance his retirement, says W. Alan Miller, a Purdue University specialist who works with farm families on estate planning and farm transfer issues.

“If dad needs to sell the farm to get the money to live on in retirement, and the son is expecting to inherit the property, then the father may be in a bind,” he said.

Dowler finds himself working with more and more farm families on the issue of estate planning. Unfortunately, too often it’s too late.

That’s why Dowler helped spearhead an effort to bring nationally recognized agricultural estate planning expert Neil Harl, a member of the Iowa State Bar and ag economist at Iowa State University, to town.

Harl will present a workshop on estate planning and wealth preservation for farm owners July 24, and a second similar presentation for small business owners, including agribusinesses, July 25. Both seminars will be offered in Meadville, Pa.

“We’ve got an aging farm population,” Dowler said. Virginia Tech’s David Kohl estimates 70 percent of all farms will be transferred within the next 15 years.

“We’re hoping to get agriculture itself off of dead center and into a mind set where they want to keep these farms intact,” Dowler said. “In reality, it hardly ever goes that way unless there are good plans in place.”

Purdue’s Miller said it’s critical that all the players be involved in planning.

“Sometimes when I visit with farmers, their wives leave the room, saying they are not interested in farm finances,” he said. “Well, they should be. What if he dies – where does that leave them?”

In the words of Ron Eberhard of Grove City, Ohio, who also works daily with farm families on these issues: Who will reap the harvest of your work and sacrifice?

(Editor Susan Crowell can be reached at 1-800-837-3419 or at editorial@farmanddairy.com.)

Get our Top Stories in Your Inbox

Next step: Check your inbox to confirm your subscription.