All farmers care about the future of their farm. They agree that succession planning is important and that keeping the land in farming is a priority. Then why do so few farmers actually do the planning? Like all of us, it’s hard to make the time, and to face tough issues like financial security, family dynamics, and retirement.
Plenty of guides, worksheets and websites offer succession planning information. From Land For Good’s (LFG’s) experience, what’s missing is structured and sustained support to pull the advisor team together, help the family make decisions, and organize the legal and financial mechanics. LFG’s field agents provide that support in each New England state. And, with funding from the USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, this past winter (2016 – 2017) LFG piloted a new, more intensive approach that proved successful-and bears repeating to help more farm families.
A New England Farm Succession School, offered in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, brought eight farmers or farm couples to an intensive three-session course. In each state, participants attended a full day in December, January and February, co-led by Kathy Ruhf (LFG) and Jon Jaffe (Farm Credit East). In between sessions, they completed assignments like calculating retirement budgets or holding a family meeting to assess communication styles. Each farmer also wrote and shared a “legacy letter.”
The small groups yielded big rewards. Farmers loved the amount of attention, and valued the trust and sharing that developed among the participants, regardless of scale or type of enterprise.
It opened my mind to all that’s involved and not be afraid to seek help from professionals,” said one participant.
The comradery of sharing stories is both learning and inspirational to all parties involved,” shared another.
For one dairy farm couple, their Succession School experience led them to develop a timetable for their “exit” and to work with their on-farm son on transitioning management of the dairy and associated cheese operation.
This made us look at our business more closely than we have in a while,” they shared.
A NH greenhouse operator identified potential successors and developed a set of steps to determine the feasibility of transfer to one of them.
It is important to discuss and communicate and keep working on it. You are always changing – do not let family dynamics, fear and anxiety keep you from work on YOUR plan!” commented one farmer.
Participants also received ongoing no-cost technical assistance between sessions and discounted continued planning support, plus a credit toward hiring other succession-related technical assistance.
A recent study, Gaining Insights, Gaining Access, conducted by American Farmland Trust and Land For Good, shed new light on the critical need to facilitate the transition of farms and farmland in New England to a next generation of farmers. The Farm Succession School is designed for these senior farmers and farm couples looking toward retirement and farm transition.
To continue addressing this need for structured and sustained support, the next Farm Succession School will be offered to all New England farmers this winter (2017 – 2018) in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.
Here are the upcoming Farm Succession Schools. Watch for more details as registration opens next month.
|Massachusetts||December 5, 2017
January 11, 2018
February 7, 2018
|Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation, 249 Lakeside Avenue, Marlborough, MA|
|Connecticut||December 6, 2017
January 10, 2018
February 6, 2018
|Connecticut Farm Bureau Association, 78 Beaver Road, Wethersfield, CT|
|Rhode Island||December 8, 2017
January 9, 2018
February 8, 2018
|USDA Farm Services Agency, 60 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI|
When asked what Succession School participants would tell a fellow farmer:
Attend! This series will help you focus on creating concrete steps out of vague thoughts … steps that will move you towards successful business transition/succession.”
It is almost essential to the success of the agricultural enterprise transfer & the personal life stage planning at retirement and beyond.”
Well worth the time. Gets you thinking and planning.”
Definitely would recommend it.”