As Farm Journal’s succession planning expert, Kevin Spafford breaks down the complexity of the process to help farm families cultivate multigenerational success.
Legacy. It means different things to different people, yet we all seem to agree it’s important. Everybody leaves a legacy, for some it’s by accident and for others by intent. For the past seven years, I’ve enjoyed a dialogue with you about this important topic. I’ve answered questions, responded to requests, proposed solutions and read a lot of great stories. It’s those stories that intrigue me most. Below are a few of my favorite stories:
- "My mother and father are two of the greatest farmers I have ever known. They taught me to love life, in all of its forms, and never be afraid. I have built my entire life on those simple understandings."
- "To me, the greatest American farmers were my dad, granddad and even his dad before him. I’m a 5th generation farmer. Though I’m not sure I have the same entrepreneurial gene, I work hard to build something special for my family. I have motivation and a burning desire that won’t let up. It’s part of my heritage and the legacy that was passed down to me."
- "We hope our kids appreciate and respect the hard work, sacrifice and risk it took to build the operation and accumulate the assets we’re passing on to them. We want them to maintain it like we would and preserve it for the next generation."
This came from a widow who was transitioning the farm operation to an unrelated third-party.
"I can’t imagine a farm couple who wouldn’t be ‘over the moon’ that an adult child wants to continue the family operation! Though our kids didn’t choose farming, there are ways to keep the family farm together.
"Several years ago, we hired a reliable young man to help out, and over time, he became part-owner in the operation. After my husband’s death, I transitioned the land to our family corporation and the farming operation to our hired man.
"Today, I maintain our position in the family corporation and help manage the land. I’m comfortable knowing that our hired man appreciates the opportunity and maintains the land as we did. I celebrate his inclusion in the enterprise and know our family operation is stronger because he’s there.
"In speaking of legacy, people must recognize that DNA isn’t always the answer."
- We can all relate to these thoughts.
"In speaking of legacy, three things come to mind. I want to know:
"1. That my wife and I have made a difference in other people’s lives.
"2. That our kids have close, meaningful relationships with each other.
"3. That my children will keep this land and pass it on to their kids, who will pass it on to theirs.
"Beyond that, we hope our kids live happy and fulfilled lives based on their upbringing and our family life. We hope they appreciate the farm and keep it as a family legacy."
- "Legacy is simple; my only wish is for my kids and what we have done together to live on.
"Throughout the years, we’ve had several high school students work for us. We’ve been told time and again how much we’ve changed their lives. That feels good. One young man in particular is now 25 years old and starting his own excavating business. I appreciate his work ethic, and I’m proud of him.
"Our family legacy might be knowing in our hearts we’ve done a good job and helped others along the way."
Thank you for sharing your stories, and please keep them coming.
For a step-by-step action guide to help you navigate the succession planning process, visit
Kevin Spafford writes from Chico, Calif.
- Mid-November 2013