Transitioning the Family Farm

The family farm is alive and well in today’s agriculture community. Many future farmers will inherit the land that was cultivated by their father, their father’s father, and for many generations before that. The transition between generations isn’t always an easy one, however. It’s not easy giving up control over the operations that you have invested your whole life building. The stakes are high. Not only are you risking your livelihood and your life’s work, but there’s also the chance of damaging your relationship with the son or daughter who is taking over. Before you pass along the family farm, or before you take the lead on it, check out this advice for a smoother transition.

Communicate clearly

Good communication is the root of a smooth farm transition. Whether you’re retiring or just getting started, it’s important to be clear about what you expect and what you’re nervous about. Be open about how the farm operates day to day. This includes sharing financial data and bookkeeping practices.

While you’re having these farm transition conversations, make sure to cover all the ground. Here are some questions to consider: Where will the new farmers live? Where will you live? What is your role in the new farm operation? What is an exit strategy in case things go wrong? What assets does the farm have? How much money do you have/how much money will you need?

Keep an open mind

Keep the younger generations informed with your favorite planting tips and tricks but give them space to figure it out on their own. Transitions are easier when you have an open mind going into them. Who knows, the new farmer just might make your operations bigger and better.

Accept mistakes

Accept that there will be mistakes. Farming is a lifetime of adjustments and experiments. At any stage, there is potential for failures and screw-ups. It can be difficult to take a back seat in these situations but patience is appreciated. Your future farmers will learn from their mistakes and try again next year.

Set goals

Experienced farmers and beginning farmers should work together to set clear goals for the farm. Sometimes a farm transition includes selling some land. Maybe you both value sustainability and conservation. For some, the ultimate goal is to simply keep the farm in the family. Whatever your intentions are, make sure to outline where you want to go with the farm and how you will get there.

Consult with an expert

Lawyers, farm transitions coaches, financial advisors and peers can help you navigate this change. Do your research and don’t hesitate to reach out in this situations.

Evaluate finances

Take an honest look at the farm’s financial state before going through a transition. Farming is a business. A business that’s easily complicated by family drama. Full disclosure is important to the beginning farmer knows what to expect. It also matters for the retiring farmer to know what his or her financial situation is.

Farm succession plans are not easy, especially when family is involved. With careful planning and preparation, however, you can pass along the family farm for many generations to come.