Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world, said Nelson Mandela. Sharing knowledge and experience to educate other professionals who work on behalf of New England farmers can help build their skills to better serve these farm families. This spring we offered a unique opportunity to explore the complex legal and technical issues of farm succession and transfer planning with attorneys and other service providers.
Land For Good hosted a two-day Farm Succession Advisors Training on May 3 – 4, 2017 in Manchester, NH to build professional support to assist farm families through succession and transfer planning. The nearly 60 participants included experienced and new attorneys, business and financial planners, accountants, land trust and conservation staff, and lenders from across New England.
Farm transfer is a critical issue for thousands of farm families in New England and nationally. Most exiting farmers need attorneys and other service providers who specialize in farm succession.
It was impressive to listen to a room full of attorneys wallowing in the legal weeds of farm succession,” observed Kathy Ruhf, one of the training organizers. “Our message is that farm succession assistance is a “team sport.” Attorneys are critical members of a farm family’s advisory team.”
Sessions included business and estate planning basics for the farm client, legal structures for transferring the farm business, models and guidelines for farm transfer planning, farmland conservation and farm transfer, and and other farm transfer tools. Special issues such as non-family transfers of the farm business were also addressed.
I have a better understanding and appreciation of the team approach really required for effective succession planning and information,” said one participant.
Training participants rated the overall quality of this professional training as “excellent” and many expressed a better understanding of farm succession planning issues and challenges, feeling more “confident” to provide legal or other services to farm families engaged in farm succession planning.
This training improved my knowledge of law and policy affecting farm transfer and succession, which will improve my ability to understand and promote policy ideas that support and encourage transfer and succession,” said one attorney.
The event was supported by a grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture through its Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and delivered as part of the Land Access Project. Continuing education credits were available to attorneys in several of the participating states.
Those of us already working to help farmers develop succession and transfer plans clearly saw the need for more training,” said Jim Hafner, Executive Director of Land For Good. “Based on the comments I have received from participants I’ve seen since the training, the value of this training and desire for more is clear coming from both lawyers and other professionals.”
Nearly 30 percent of New England’s farmers are likely to exit farming in the next 10+ years. These senior farmers manage 1.4 million acres and own $6.45 billion in land and agricultural infrastructure that will change hands in one way or another. Ninety percent do not have a young farm operator farming alongside them.
Focus groups with farmers without identified successors, conducted as part of a recent study, reveal a deep concern about retirement. How and to whom this land and farm infrastructure transfers will have an enormous impact on the future of farming in New England. This study by American Farmland Trust and Land For Good sheds light on what will be needed to facilitate the transition of farms and farmland in New England to a next generation of farmers (Gaining Insights, Gaining Access).
Land For Good has helped hundreds of farmers and farm families find innovative solutions that keep their farms in farming and provide a meaningful legacy. Founded and based in Keene, Land For Good works throughout New England to help farmers access and transfer farms and farmland.
Land For Good, with over 40 collaborative partners on the project, aims to equip farm succession advisors with the skills they need to assist transitioning farm families. The project takes a comprehensive, systems approach to improve programs and policies around land access and transfer in each New England state by working with established and transitioning farmers, landowners, conservation organizations, service providers, communities and policymakers.
Expertise of the speakers was excellent – very helpful window into the industry specific issues and challenges,” said one attorney. “I now have the resources to bring to bear and mentors to call upon as needed.”
The training was delivered by legal and other experts in the field. Speakers included:
- Elizabeth Boepple, BCM Environmental & Land Law, PLLC
- Sam Smith, Intervale Center
- Mark Cannella, Extension Assistant Professor, Farm Business Management Specialist
- Rich Cavanaugh, attorney, Common Grow, LLC
- William J. Dakin, Kahan, Kerensky & Capossela, LLP
- Paul Dillon, private attorney
- Rebecca Fletcher, Project Manager, Equity Trust
- Mike Ghia, Vermont Field Agent, Land For Good
- Emma Hempstead, private attorney
- Annette Higby, private attorney
- Jon Jaffe, Farm Business Consultant/Farm Tax Specialist, Farm Credit East, ACA
- Annie Lemelin, Attorney, Conservation Law Foundation
- Mike Moloney, Manager of Tax Services, Yankee Farm Credit, ACA
- Louanna Perkins, Legal Counsel, Maine Farmland Trust
- Richard F. Peterson, Legal counsel, Vermont Land Trust
- Jon Ramsay, Director of Farmland Access Program, Vermont Land Trust
- Kathy Ruhf, Senior Program Director, Land for Good
- Donald H. Sienkiewicz, Estate Preservation & Planning Law Office
The most valuable aspect of this training was the variety of presenters, and ability to develop relationships with professionals and providers,” said another participant.