Although Matt Brake just graduated from college last summer, he’s already thinking about taking over the family farm — and his parents are, too. Plans are underway to transfer ownership of Oakleigh Farm, a 400-acre row-crop and dairy farm in Mercersburg, Penn.
An oft-cited Iowa State University study found that half of farmers lacked an estate plan and 71 percent of retiring farmers hadn’t identified a successor.
Brake attended sessions on succession planning at the 2018 New Century Farmer conference and shares his biggest takeaways.
Succession planning takes time. “We’re not going to transfer ownership of the farm overnight,” he explains. Brake’s dad started the succession planning process two years ago, even though the next generation might not take the reins for another decade. Having a long-term plan in place allows farm families to transition the farm from one generation to the next over time instead of overnight.
Dividing the farm is difficult. In the Brake family, three siblings want to take over day-to-day operations while the other two siblings have careers outside of agriculture. A successful succession plan will consider the needs of all five children and the continuation of their family’s farming legacy. The New Century Farmer conference emphasized the idea that “fair is not always equal,” which helped Brake see that there are many ways to divide the estate. “It’s hard for me to think about my place on the farm after Dad retires, but I have to remember that this is stressful for him, too,” he admits.
Ask the right questions. A Farm Bureau presentation provided tips for talking to older generations about succession planning — without being offensive. “Instead of asking, ‘What will happen to the farm after you die?’ it’s better to ask questions about how ownership is transferred to them,” Brake explains. “You can show you’re interested in continuing the family legacy without putting them on the spot about their plans.”
Experts are essential. Planning for a successful succession requires having some tough and emotional conversations about the future of the farm. Rather than tackling succession planning solo, the Brake family plans to bring in a mediator to help guide discussions.
At the New Century Farmer conference, Brake appreciated opportunities to network with other young farmers and to hear about their experiences with succession planning. “It was comforting to learn that a lot of us are facing the same issues,” he says.
New Century Farmer will take place again this summer but in a new location—Indianapolis. The conference, held July 7-13, is for members who have experience in the field of production agriculture and plan to return to a career in production agriculture through work experience, training or other activities. Participants must attend a two- or four-year college or university and are between the ages of 18-24. This all-expenses-paid conference will be filled with interactive workshops, field tours, visioning design, networking opportunities and financial planning. Applications close Feb. 15, 2019. Visit the conference webpage on FFA.org to learn more.