The following commentary does not necessarily reflect the views of AgWeb or Farm Journal Media. The opinions expressed below are the author's own.
Kevin Spafford is Farm Journal’s succession planning expert for the Farm Journal Legacy Project. He hosts the nationally-televised ‘Leave a Legacy’ TV, facilitates an ongoing series of workshops for farm families across the U.S., and is the author of Legacy by Design: Succession Planning for Agribusiness Owners.
No, I would never do this to my son. I love my children equally. The "on farm" son should have been paid a fair wage for his employment over the years and should have been able to buy into the business with his savings as he could afford to.
The "off farm" son shouldn't be penalized just because he worked off farm. My experience after 20 years as a spectator of this type of thing is that the "on farm" kid(s) think its all theirs! They think they "earned it". Guess what - they didn't. They were merely the operators of multigenerational assets that belong to the entire family. Farmland is "earned" via the return on equity that was built up over many generations. I intend to leave my farm operation to my kids equally. I love them all the same and I am not arrogant enough to think I earned it all. Most of what I "earned" has been because I had the opportunity in the first place and inherited enough land to stay in farming. If structured properly off farm kids can provide skills, insight and capital to the farm operation as investors.
In the situation you quoted I hardly believe that "on farm" son earned $2M after tax from his wages (i.e. the implied amount of equity that he would inherit in excess of his "off farm" brother). Moreover, farmland is a valuable appreciating asset that is hard to recreate and obtain. To give it all to the "on farm" son is preferential from that perspective also (i.e. its a better asset). Clearly preference was given to the "on farm" son, but that is the same story I have seen around here for my entire life and the #1 reason that farm families and operations disintegrate. Poor planning / inequitable treatment by the family patriarch leads to many dysfunctional results.