by David Marrison, Associate Professor & Extension Educator
During the past winter, one of the farm management workshops we conducted across Ohio was the “Passing on the Family Farm” series. In fact, almost 400 individuals were able to attend these workshops and other special presentations to learn how to plan for the future of their farms. These workshops were a great way for families to grow together by develop a farm succession game-plan and to begin to have crucial conversations.
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? Seven years ago this May, 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 succession workshops are “What knowledge would you need to pass on if you knew you had only 2 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.
Opossum Approach – 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 have been transferred and which ones still need to be? 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.
365 Day Challenge- 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?
Our farm succession team is here to help you. In addition to our one day or two day workshops, we are also available to speak at other events and to conduct kitchen-table meetings with your farm family. If you are interesting in learning more about how to successfully transition your farm to the next generation, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be happy to dialogue with you! Our team also has a series of factsheets on farm transition planning and other planning documents available for your use.