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Meet the Farmers in the Dell

July 5, 2009

The farmer takes a wife. The wife takes a child… The nursery rhyme is tailor-made for the farmers in the Dell family. Four generations currently depend on the Westminster, Md., family farm that is, believe it or not, located in a dell about 30 miles west of Baltimore.

The family's 2,300 acres of rolling farmland spills over into a 160-cow dairy located in a dip of a valley that is as picturesque as it is historic. An occasional Civil War relic still turns up in the soil here.

Now this family is engaged in an attempt to make sure their own farming history continues. The Dell family applied and was selected to be included in Farm Journal's Legacy Project, an effort that is part therapy, part analysis and ultimately all about planning and implementing a farm transition plan that spans six separate families.

Kevin Spafford, Farm Journal columnist and founder of Legacy by Design, a farm succession planning firm, recently met with the entire Dell clan to begin a customized process of transition and succession. In the coming months, and even years, you'll find reports on the process and witness the progress made as the Dells explore the visions and goals for their farm and families.

"Every farm family has their own story, but the Dells' complex family makeup is not unlike many farm families that are great at going to work each day. They've been terrific at transferring the love of farming to multiple family members, but, as often happens, they found themselves faltering when planning for what comes next,” Spafford says. "The thing that instantly impressed me about them is how united they are in their willingness to tackle this chore. That is a huge first step.”

Meet the family. Greg Dell's application letter to Farm Journal tells the tale: "My brother and I are the owners of the business corporation, but my father and mother are still part of an older corporation that owns the home farm. I have three sons involved in the operation that are not owners yet.

"We have talked to lawyers and financial experts, trying to come up with a succession plan. We have never gotten any concrete directions. They always seem to just stall out.”

Donald (age 83) and Leona (age 80) Dell are the farm founders. Leona serves as secretary/treasurer of the business. They would like to pass on their shares, but they still need income to live comfortably.

Their sons are Roger (age 59) and Greg (age 57) Dell. Both of their wives are supportive, but they are not active in the daily management of the farm.

Greg would like to take over the operation and come up with a plan for his sons to become more financially involved. Roger wants to retire and sell his business assets to Greg. Roger's two sons have no active interest in the farm.

The third generation of farmers is made up of Greg's children. Gary and his wife, Crystal, operate the dairy and are interested in buying the cows and renting the barns and equipment. The middle son, Tommy, manages the crop operation. He's not interested in the dairy, but he raises a few beef cattle on the side and is interested in selling seed corn.

The youngest, Douglas, once worked full-time on the farm, but as the economy tightened and opportunity presented itself, he took the steps to become a full-time firefighter. He still works on the farm on an hourly basis on his days off and still has a passionate interest in what happens to the farm.

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