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Keep the Ball Rolling

CHERYL TEVIS 05/21/2013 @ 12:03pm

Maintaining momentum is easy for the day-to-day chores that farmers typically tackle in a timely manner. It's no small feat when it comes to advancing the farm transition and estate planning end game.

Patty Walker and her daughter-in-law, Kris Walker, know all too well that farming today requires a business plan. The Webster City, Iowa, duo share a common business goal: keeping the family on good terms while laying the groundwork for the next farm generation.

"My husband and I are at the age that we need to be planning," Patty says.

That's why the two women attended the Managing for Today and Tomorrow class held in Ames, Iowa, a year ago. It's the second phase of Annie's Project, an agricultural risk-management program for women supported by a grant from USDA, the Farm Credit Council, and 11 Farm Credit Associations.

Annie's Project has grown to 33 states and has reached 9,700 women since it launched in Illinois in 2003. Managing for Today and Tomorrow focuses on succession, business, estate, and retirement planning. "Annie's Project is unique," Kris says. "There aren't many programs aimed at women."

Research over the past three decades indicates that women play a pivotal role when it comes to a successful farm transition. The 2007 USDA Census of Agriculture identified 306,209 women as primary farm operators; their average age was 59.

"The new Managing for Today and Tomorrow curriculum emphasizes the role women play in helping transition farms from one generation to the next," says Madeline Schultz, Iowa State University Extension.

The course is offered in five weekly three-hour sessions. Extension and Outreach specialists and area professionals conduct the classes. Angie Loew, Farm Credit Services of America financial officer, Carroll, Iowa, was one of the instructors at the Walkers' course. She also is one of the authors of the Managing for Today and Tomorrow curriculum.

"I've worked with farmers for 24 years and have seen the need for transitioning information," Loew says.

Erin Herbold-Swalwell, a Des Moines, Iowa, attorney, conducts many of the estate planning classes.

"Understanding the concepts behind estate and succession planning is a critical first step in developing a plan to transition the family farm to the next generation," Herbold-Swalwell says.

"We learned a lot, and then we could come home and discuss what we learned with our husbands," Patty says.

Kris adds, "Sometimes I think men want to figure it all out, get it done with, and go on to the next thing," she says. "Transition and estate planning is an evolving thing. It's an ongoing conversation, a work in progress."

Kris says the course recognizes women's multiple roles, from being a primary producer to working off-farm. "It does a great job of creating content for all," she says.

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