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succession planning

Tractor pulling wagon of grain across beanfield at sunset.

Written by David L. Marrison, Professor & Field Specialist in Farm Management, OSU Extension

“I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying.” This famous line was quoted by Andy Dufresne, played by Tim Robbins, in the iconic movie titled “The Shawshank Redemption” released in 1994.

As we each traverse through our lives, we all are presented with moments that make us pause and reflect on how precious the time is we have been given here on earth. Every time I watch The Shawshank Redemption, I pause and think of the deeper message in this line:  that life can be spent going through the motions and waiting around for something to happen or you can make something happen.

As we look at developing a plan for transitioning the farm to the next generation, are we waiting around for something to happen? Or will we work to make something happen? As farmers, we have to contend with and solve the day-to-day problems which arise on the farm. And there is never a shortage of problems that arise. Because of this, the time for deeper planning functions such as farm transition planning is often pushed down the to-do list.  So, what will be the trigger to make something happen with regards to your succession plan?

What will be your trigger?

One of the hypothetical questions we pose in farm succession workshops is, “What knowledge would you need to pass on if you knew you had only two months to live?” This exact scenario happened to our family in 2010 when my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer just as we entered into Spring planting season on our dairy farm in northeast Ohio. 

My father valiantly battled this disease but passed away seven weeks later. Our family learned a lot and had to scramble to manage the farm in the midst of his illness. I am grateful for the short time we had with my dad to make preparations. But it was not long enough to learn everything we needed to know to run the farm without him.

I challenge you to think how your farm and family would react to the loss of the principal operator.  What knowledge and skills need to be transferred to the next generation so they can be successful without you? What can you do today to make something happen?

Who Will Manage the Farm in the Future?

As you develop your succession or transition plan, there are a myriad of decisions to be made. These decisions include identifying the next leader/manager of the farm, how to be fair to off-farm heirs without jeopardizing the future of the on-farm heirs, how to distribute assets through the estate plan, how and when the senior generation will retire, and how the business will deal with unexpected issues such as divorce, disability or paying for nursing home expenses. I would contend that the most crucial planning functions are to identify the next manager of the farm and then strategically plan how to develop them to lead the farm in the future.

The first step is to identify who the next leader or leaders of the farm will be. The next generation could be an immediate family member (son, daughter, grandchild) or extended family member (brother, sister, niece, nephew). With that said, the next leader does not have to be from your family as some farms have transitioned successfully to a non-blood friend or neighbor. The key is to choose a successor who will be the best caretaker of the farm and the land they will be entrusted with.

As you review potential managers and heirs to your farm, it is important to talk with them about their vision for the future and how it aligns with the current farming operation. What are their goals and aspirations for the farm? What concerns do they have about the future of the farm? 

Complete a skills assessment with each potential heir/manager to examine their current strengths and which areas they will need to receive training in order for them to be a better leader for the farm in the future. Talk with them to learn more about what they would be most concerned or scared about if they had to take over the farm today. Are there additional responsibilities they would like to assume and what is their expectation for an appropriate time for management control to be transferred?

The new manager should have experience with how other farms are operated. Having the future manager work on another farm prior to returning to the home farm is a valuable experience. Mentor relationships should also be developed for the new manager to have a trusted team to help them grow.

Putting the Transition into Motion

The transition can be accomplished gradually by turning over more responsibility and authority to the successor.  In fact, this process may (and should) take 5-10 years. It is important to develop a timeline for transferring ownership, management responsibilities, and knowledge from one generation to the next.

As the senior generation transitions their role and responsibilities to the next generation, thought should be given to the overall labor hours which will be available. In some cases, the responsibilities of two members of the senior generation will be transitioned to a single successor. Think of husband/wife combination transitioning to one of their children. This could cause a labor shortage. Could some tasks be outsourced to independent contractors (like accountants)? Can some production practices be accomplished through custom hire arrangements (silage harvest or cattle breeding)?

The biggest task in the transition plan is making sure the next generation has a firm foundation of knowledge to manage the operation in the future. This will look different for each farm and for the type of manager that is needed.

Owner-Operator. If the next manager is going to be an owner-operator, then training will need to include how to manage all aspects of the farm. These include production skills to raise livestock and/or crop enterprises and marketing skills to effectively market each commodity produced. The owner-operator will also need financial skills to manage the operation’s finances and taxes and human resource skills to manage employees. Additionally, they will need to know how to maintain facilities, tools, and equipment as well as how to manage risk through crop, livestock, and farm insurance.

Owner-Landlord. To the contrary, if the next manager will be more of an owner-landlord, they will need to be trained less on the day-to-day production activities and more on how to manage the farm asset. Some skills which are necessary for landlords include tenant and farm rental management, farm finance and tax management, farm insurance decision making, and facilities and other farm assets maintenance.

Strategies recommended for farm businesses to utilize in the transition process are:

  • Every person who is part of the business (family member and employees) should have a written job description which includes job duties, responsibilities, and expectations.
  • Create an organization chart of all employees and how each employee relates to one another.
  • Develop a timeline for the successor to work through each job description on the farm. It is good to start the new family member as an employee and not the top manager.
  • Provide meaningful opportunities for decision-making as well as accepting responsibility for the future manager.
  • Develop a plan on how the future manager can increase their equity in the farm business through gifting, purchasing or inheritance.
  • Develop a timeline for retirement and managerial transfer from senior generation to the succeeding generation.
  • Utilize family business meetings to discuss the transfer and changing roles within the business.

Some experts advise that the current manager take a number of planned absences before retiring to provide an opportunity for the successor to see what it is like to manage the business alone. This will also allow the current manager to see that the farm does not fall apart without them. So how do you know if the next generation is ready?  There are two other approaches which you can use to help prepare the next generation to lead without you:  

Opossum Approach. Just as an opossum plays dead, so too should the principal 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 need to be transferred?  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. So, by the end of the year, your heirs will have 365 new tools in their management toolbox. If you do this over the next five to ten years, you can teach your heirs an incredible amount.

Take Advantage of OSU Extension Workshops

Attend one of our Planning for the Future of Your Farm” workshops this Winter to learn about the communication and legal strategies that provide solutions for dealing with farm transition needs and decision making.  A webinar version and several in-person options for the workshop are being offered.

Webinar version.  You and your family members can attend the workshop individually and online from the comfort of your homes. The four-part webinar series will be February 5, 12, 19, and 26, 2024, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. via Zoom. Pre-registration is required so that a packet of program materials can be mailed in advance to participating families. Electronic copies of the course materials will also be available to all participants. The registration fee is $75 per farm family.  Register by February 2, 2024 to receive course materials in time. Register on this page.

In-person workshops.  Our local Extension Educators are hosting in-person workshops at five regional locations across Ohio. Registration costs vary by location due to local sponsorships. 

More information about our Planning for the Future of Your Farm workshops is available at: go.osu.edu/farmsuccession.

Final Thoughts

So, are you ready “to make something happen” to transition your farm to the next generation?  Farm managers are encouraged to think about how the next generation can be prepared to lead the farm in the future.  And as Andy Dufresne stated in The Shawshank Redemption, “remember, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”  Good luck as you plan for the future of your farm!

Farmer looking out over field with combine harvesting soybeans in background
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Friday, November 03rd, 2023

If you and your family are grappling with the critical issue of how to transition the farm operation and farm assets to the next generation, we can help.  Attend one of our “Planning for the Future of Your Farm” workshops this fall and winter to learn about the communication and legal strategies that provide solutions for dealing with farm transition needs and decisionmaking.  We've scheduled both a webinar version and several in-person options for the workshop, with the first in-person workshops coming up soon--November 29, 2023 in Mt. Orab and December 7 in Celina.  

This workshop challenges farm families to actively plan for the future of the farm business.  Learn how to have crucial conversations about the future of your farm and gain a better understanding of the strategies and tools that can help you transfer your farm’s ownership, management, and assets to the next generation. We encourage parents, children, and grandchildren to attend together to develop a plan for the future of the family and farm. 

Teaching faculty for the workshop are David Marrison, OSU Extension Farm Management Field Specialist, and Robert Moore, Attorney with the OSU Agricultural & Resource Law Program. Topics David and Robert will cover in the workshop include:

  • Developing goals for estate and transition planning
  • Planning for the transition of control
  • Planning for the unexpected
  • Communication and conflict management during farm transfer
  • Federal estate tax challenges
  • Tools for transferring assets
  • Tools for avoiding probate
  • The role of wills and trusts
  • Using LLCs
  • Strategies for on-farm and off-farm heirs
  • Strategies for protecting the farmland
  • Developing your team
  • Getting your affairs in order
  • Selecting an attorney 

Webinar version.  You and your family members can attend the workshop individually from the comfort of your homes.  The four-part webinar series will be February 5, 12, 19, and 26, 2024, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. via Zoom.

In-person workshops.  Our local Extension Educators are hosting in-person workshops at five regional locations across Ohio:

  • November 29, 2023 - Brown County - Mt. Orab
  • December 7, 2023 - Mercer County - Celina
  • January 19, 2024 - Columbiana County - Lisbon
  • January 26, 2024 - Champaign County - Urbana
  • February 2, 2024 - Seneca County - Tiffin
  • April 4, 2024 - Warren County - Lebanon

Registration is required.  Find registration information for all workshops at https://farmoffice.osu.edu/farm-transition-planning.

We hope you'll join us to move forward on planning for the future of your farm!  For questions about the workshop, please contact David Marrison at marrison.2@osu.edu or 740-722-6073.

Ohio farm and Planning for the Future of Your Farm Webinar Series title
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Friday, December 09th, 2022

We're happy to announce our popular “Planning for the Future of Your Farm” webinar series for 2023.  The four-part online series will be on January 23 and 30 and February 6 and 13 from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. This workshop will help farm families learn strategies and tools for transferring farm ownership, management, and assets to the next generation.

Workshop topics

Here's what the webinar will cover:

  • Developing goals
  • Planning for the transition of management
  • Planning for the unexpected
  • Communication and conflict management during farm transfer
  • Legal tools and strategies
  • Developing your team
  • Getting your affairs in order
  • Selecting an attorney

Workshop faculty

You and your family will learn from two of Ohio's top farm transition experts:

  • Robert Moore, Attorney with our Agricultural & Resource Law Program. If you didn't already know, Robert was in private practice for 18 years before joining our program. He provided legal counsel to farmers and landowners across Ohio on business, farm transition, and estate planning. 
  • David Marrison, OSU Extension Field Specialist in Farm Management. David has been with OSU Extension for 25 years and is nationally known for his teaching in farm succession. He has a unique ability to intertwine humor when speaking about the difficulties of passing the farm on to the next generation. 

Registration

Because of its virtual nature, you can invite your parents, children, and grandchildren to the webinar, regardless of where they live in Ohio or across the United States. The webinar offers an easy way to include all family members in learning about how to develop a plan for the future of your family farm. 

Families must pre-register for the workshop by January 16, 2023 at go.osu.edu/farmsuccession.  We appreciate the support of the Ohio Corn & Wheat Growers Association in sponsoring the workshop and helping us keep the cost at $75 per farm family. The registration includes one printed set of materials that we'll mail to a family member, and other members will have access to electronic copies of the materials.

In-person workshops planned also

Several of our OSU Extension county educators are also hosting day-long in-person versions of the workshop on these dates:

Don't miss out

We hope you'll join us for this important series!  Even if you already have an estate plan or have begun one, this workshop should help you learn more and ensure that you're effectively addressing your goals for the future of your farm and farm family. 

For additional information David Marrison at marrison.2@osu.edu or 740-722-6073.

By: Robert Moore, Thursday, June 16th, 2022

By Robert Moore, Attorney and Research Specialist, OSU Agricultural & Resource Law Program

Legal Groundwork

Second marriages can present a unique challenge for farm succession planning.  The challenge occurs when one or both spouses have children from a prior marriage.  The spouses often want a plan that will ensure the surviving spouse has adequate income for the remainder of their life but at the death of the surviving spouse they will usually want their assets to go to their children, not their spouse’s children.  So, the issue becomes, how to establish a plan to take care of the surviving spouse while ensuring the deceased spouse’s assets go to their own children?

Consider the following example, a typical second-marriage, farm succession scenario.  Mark and Mindy each have two children from previous marriages.  Mark farmed his whole life and built a large farming operation prior to marrying Mindy.  Mindy is not involved in the farming operation.  Mark’s two children plan to take over the farming operation.  If Mark dies before Mindy, he wants to make sure Mindy has adequate income for the rest of her life.  However, he wants his assets to ultimately go to his children and not Mindy’s children.

Let’s first look at what a bad plan might look like.  If Mark and Mindy do not have an estate plan or a simple estate plan where everything goes to the surviving spouse then to the children, Mindy’s children could end up with some or all of Mark’s assets.  Let’s assume they each have a will that says everything to each other then to the children.  If Mark dies first, all of his assets will go to Mindy.  At that point, Mindy will have total control of the assets and could sell them all or leave them all to her children.  For second marriages, no plan or a simple plan is usually not adequate to meet the goals of a farm succession plan.

The better plan is to use a trust.  The trust can hold the deceased spouse’s assets in trust for the surviving spouse’s life, thus providing income.  Then, at the surviving spouse’s death, the assets are distributed to the deceased spouse’s children.  The surviving spouse never has ownership of the deceased spouse’s trust assets so the assets are never in danger of ending up with the surviving spouse’s children.

Using the example above, Mark establishes a trust with the following terms: “Upon my death, my assets shall be held in trust for the life of Mindy.  While held in trust for Mindy, my Trustee shall distribute all income to Mindy.  Upon the death of Mindy, my Trustee shall distribute the assets to my children.”  This trust will provide income to Mindy but ultimately distribute the assets to Mark’s children.

Sometimes we may want some assets to go directly to the deceased spouse’s children at death and some held in trust.  This is very common for farm plans.  When children will be taking over the farming operation, we may not want to tie up the operating assets in trust but instead have those go directly to the farming children.  To implement this plan, the trust may have these provisions: “Upon my death, my Trustee shall distribute all my farm machinery, grain, crops and other farm operating assets to my children.  The remainder of my assets, including my farmland, shall be held in trust for Mindy.  While held in trust for Mindy, my Trustee shall distribute all income to Mindy.  My Trustee shall offer to lease the farmland to my children for 80% of the county cash rent average.  Upon the death of Mindy, my Trustee shall distribute all remaining trust assets to my children.”

As the examples show, trusts can be very effective at establishing plans for second marriages.  The surviving spouse can be provided with adequate income while protecting the assets for the deceased spouse’s children.  A simple plan or no plan can result in some or all of the deceased spouse’s assets being inherited by the other spouse’s children.  A trust can be designed with a great deal of flexibility and creativity. Farmer’s in second marriages should consult with legal counsel to determine if a trust may be best for their succession plan.

Child running on Ohio farmland with sunset in background.
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Tuesday, January 18th, 2022

Whether it's to protect family farmland, bring future generations into the operation, address special needs like retirement, disability, or remarriage--taking legal steps now can make your goals for the future of your farm a reality.  Farm transition planning is so important to keeping a farm and a farm family together, but it's easy to make mistakes that can bring unintended problems in the future.  Consider this this list of seven common mistakes farmers make in farm transition planning:

1. Procrastination.

2. Thinking joint property titles will do.

3. Overlooking expenses at time of death.

4. Assuming no federal estate taxes.

5. Trying to be fair to all beneficiaries.

6. Failing to consider disability as well as death.

7. Avoiding communication.

We'll discuss and address all of these issues in our "Planning for the Future of Your Farm" workshops this winter.  We can help you get over that procrastination hurdle, develop your goals, deal with communication issues and understand legal strategies.  Join me, attorney Robert Moore, and farm management educator David Marrison for either a day-long live program or a four-part live webinar this winter, where we cover these topics:

  • Developing goals for estate and succession planning
  • Planning for the transition of control
  • Planning for the unexpected
  • Communication and conflict management during farm transfer
  • Legal tools and strategies
  • Developing your team
  • Getting your affairs in order
  • Selecting an attorney

Dates and locations for the workshops are:

  • Live Zoom webinar on January 31 and February 7, 21 and 28 from 6:30--8:30 pm.
    • Because of its virtual nature, parents, children, and grandchildren can easily attend this workshop, regardless of where they live!
  • Day-long in-person workshops:
    • February 10, 2022--OSU Extension Greene County, Xenia, Ohio
    • February 25, 2022--OSU Fisher Auditorium, Wooster, Ohio
    • March 4, 2022--Wood County Fairgrounds, Bowling Green, Ohio

Pre-registration is necessary for all workshops.  For registration and further information, visit this link:  go.osu.edu/farmsuccession.  Together, let's make 2022 the year that you make plans for the future of your farm.

White barns with red roofs on cattle farm.
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Friday, January 22nd, 2021

Ohio State Extension will host a virtual three part "Planning for the Future of your Farm" webinar series. The webinar series will span over three Monday evenings from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. starting on February 15, 2021 and concluding on March 1, 2021. This workshop is designed to help farm families learn strategies and tools to successfully create a succession and estate plan that helps transfer the farm's ownership, management, and assets to the next generation. 

Topics discussed during this series include: 

  • Developing Goals for Estate and Succession; 
  • Planning for the Transition of Control; 
  • Planning for the Unexpected; 
  • Communication and Conflict Management During Farm Transfer;
  • Legal Tools and Strategies;
  • Developing Your Team;
  • Getting Your Affairs in Order; and
  • Selecting an Attorney

This workshop will be taught by members of the OSU Farm Office Team featuring Peggy Hall & Jeffrey Lewis, Attorneys from the OSU Agricultural & Resource Law Program and David Marrison, Extension Educator for Coshocton County. 

Because the workshop is online, you can invite your parents, children, and/or grandchildren to join you as you develop a plan for the future of your family farm, regardless of where they live in Ohio or across the United States.

Pre-registration is required. One hard-copy of program materials will be mailed to participating farm families. Electronic copies of the program materials will also be available to all participants. The registration fee is $40 per farm family. The deadline to register for the webinar series is February 10, 2021. You can register online at the "Planning for the Future of Your Farm" webinar registration page.  

In Summary: 

What? 

A three part "Planning for the Future of Your Farm" webinar series. 

When? 

Monday, February 15, 2021 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. 
Monday, February 22, 2021 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. 
Monday, March 1, 2021 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. 

Cost? 

$40 per farm family. 
Registration deadline is February 10, 2021. 

You can find more information about the webinar series by visiting the "Planning for the Future of Your Farm" webinar registration page. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact David Marrison by phone at (740) 622-2265 or email at marrison.2@osu.edu

We look forward to seeing you there! 

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