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The Path to Legacy

November 6, 2009
By: Jeanne Bernick, Top Producer Editor

The Esther Family  The Esthers are a farm family chosen to participate in the Farm Journal Legacy Project. We hope others can learn from their experiences by following their succession planning process in the pages of Top Producer, online and on television.

A wise parent does not prepare the path for the child, but instead prepares the child for the path. That's the learned perspective of Chet and Lori Esther of Beardstown, Ill., founders of Esther Family Farming Company (EFFCO).

The Esthers spent 30 years raising a family and building a profitable 4,700-acre grain operation, a construction company and a semi-truck and trailer dealership.

Now the family is eager to begin the journey of transitioning the multiple-entity business to the next generation. The Esther family was selected to be included in Farm Journal's Legacy Project, an effort to chronicle the planning and implementation of a farm transition plan.

Family Picture. At just 51 years old, some might say farm founder Chet Esther is too young to retire. But while continuing his active business-leader life (he currently serves on the board for Growmark Inc., a regional cooperative, and Two Rivers FS, Inc., a local farm service company), he hopes to retire by age 55 and remain a "helpful hired hand."

Chet's career began in high school, when his dad gave him 13 acres as an FFA project. He and his brother, Joe, each inherited 600 acres when their parents passed away 20 years ago. These acres formed the foundation for the EFFCO operation, which now includes 2,000 acres owned by Chet and his wife, Lori.

Lori has spent the past three decades raising the family and keeping books for the farm. She recently retired, handing over the book work to a full-time secretary.

Sons Ryan (32) and Chad (29) both now live on the farm. Ryan is married to Erin and they have two daughters. Chad and wife Tanya have one young daughter.

Sons Come Home. At first blush, the succession plan seems straightforward: Use proper estate planning and succession tools to transfer land and business assets from parents to sons over the next two to five years.

The sticking point is tenure. Chad just recently returned home after working as a forester in Missouri. During the eight years Ryan has been home, he and his father started EFFCO, with each owning 50%.

"For Chad to buy in would cost him about $800,000," Chet says. "That's not really fair to ask, since Ryan didn't buy in at that level."

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FEATURED IN: Top Producer - NOVEMBER 2009

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