Looking to the Future

January 10, 2010 02:47 PM

One after another, readers have reached out to say "thank you” since we launched the Farm Journal Legacy Project in 2008.That's because the self-reliant qualities that make farmers the strong backbone of our food supply also make it difficult for them to turn over the management reins.

In the old days, the generational transition was simple and direct. The oldest son got the farm. End of conversation. Today, it is not so easy. Times have changed and so has the level of wealth, opportunity and risk in agriculture. It is now paramount for farm operations to plan for future success.

The Farm Journal Legacy Project is a catalyst for the process to begin and is devoted to cultivating multigenerational success. A key part of that is providing producers with a valuable go-to source for the tools to simplify the complex and daunting process of succession planning.

A new grant from Pioneer Hi-Bred, a DuPont business, will make planning easier for farmers as agriculture takes on the largest transfer of farm wealth in American history. The funding helps expand the Farm Journal Media editorial commitment to raise awareness of legacy planning and kick off the largest industry initiative of its kind in agriculture.

"We are excited to participate in this and have a grant related to the project,” explains Frank Ross, vice president and regional director, North America, Pioneer. "When we look at our customer base today, more than 80% want to continue their operations to the next generation. This is an exciting opportunity for us to bring some additional service and perspective to help farmers.”

Even though 80% of farms plan to transfer control to the next generation, only 20% are fully confident in their succession plan. The startling distance between those two numbers is at the heart of what motivates Farm Journal and Pioneer to take bold steps to close the gap.

The philanthropic grant from Pioneer helps make the following efforts possible: 

  • Extensive editorial coverage of succession planning throughout Farm Journal Media—in Farm Journal, Top Producer and Dairy Today magazines, on the "AgDay” and "U.S. Farm Report” TV shows and on AgWeb.com.
  • A special Legacy Project resource issue of Farm Journal devoted entirely to succession planning.
  • An online library of succession planning tools and comprehensive resources at the new Legacy Project Web site. Visit it at www.farmjournallegacyproject.com.
  • The creation of a monthly "Leave a Legacy” TV show that premieres Jan. 28 on the AgDay national network. For additional air dates and a schedule of the episodes, visit www.farmjournallegacyproject.com
  • Hands-on training workshops led by Kevin Spafford, Farm Journal columnist and succession planning expert. The trainings will be conducted at several industrywide events, as well as at workshops hosted by Pioneer.
  • A practical Legacy Project workbook to help with your analysis, planning and succession steps.
  • A free weekly eNewsletter to help inspire and guide succession planning moves. To sign up for your subscription, go to www.farmjournallegacyproject.com.

Of course, we will continue to help our case study families create and implement a succession plan. The farm families work with Spafford, who leads the effort, and other experts recruited for the succession team to build a plan that transitions the operations to the next generation. We will chronicle the steps and progress along the way, with the hope that our readers can learn by the experience.

Throughout the case studies and the entire Legacy Project, keen attention will be devoted to helping generations of farmers take action and address key concerns.

"Nearly every farm family in America will face transition issues in the next decade,” Spafford says. "One generation might be passing away, another generation might be thinking of retirement and a third might be planning for growth while a fourth is discovering the joy of farming.

"We want to help ensure that both the farm and the family stay together in times of transition from one era of leadership to another,” he adds. "Having a comprehensive succession plan in place can quickly make the difference between success and failure.”

A succession plan is more than estate planning. It contains each of the five elements listed at the right.

For the best outcome, each element has to be outlined and executed in concert with the others. Having a will is critical, but it is only one aspect of the planning.

The complexity of succession planning is partly the reason that roughly 40% of our readers surveyed don't have a plan in place. That situation resonates with Pioneer.

"There's a huge opportunity to provide some additional structure, communication and resources so that the process doesn't appear to be too overwhelming a task or consume too much time,” Ross says.

Farm Journal's survey shows a range of rationales for failing to initiate the critical succession planning process. According to survey results, 23% say they simply don't know how to start. Another 23% are concerned about family conflicts that might arise during the process. Thirty-nine percent point to inadequate planning tools and a lack of helpful information as stumbling blocks.

For generations, farm businesses and farm families have been intricately woven together. While farms are becoming increasingly high-tech, the businesses are steeped in generations of family and rooted in a deep sense of responsibility to care for the land and livestock—and feed the world. Quite simply, a legacy lives on, leaving a lasting mark.

We invite you to join us and start today in taking meaningful steps to leave a legacy.

You can e-mail Charlene Finck at cfinck@farmjournal.com.

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