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The challenges of family farm transitions

Agriculture.com Staff Updated: 07/23/2010 @ 10:05am

Keynote speaker Ron Hanson addressed 50 New Century Farmers from 22 states at Pioneer Hi-Bred headquarters in Johnston, Iowa on Thursday. But his target audience also included family members doing the chores for them back home.

“Most families fail to discuss the real life ‘what if’ issues in terms of farm business ownership succession,” he said. “These family issues are difficult to discuss and work through.”

Hanson, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor, has spent 39 years teaching agricultural finance. During that time, his passion has been to counsel countless young farmers and their families outside of the classroom.

“Tax planning and estate planning are extremely important,” he said. “But you can have the best tax planner, lender, or attorney, and it won’t work if family members don’t share the same vision for the future of their farm business, and are unwilling to discuss their vision together.”

Hanson said that family farm transition issues are the greatest challenges facing agriculture today. He outlined the following seven key business ownership issues:

(1) The role of the father
Hanson said that dad wears a boss hat and a dad hat. “He may have to change hats several times a day.
Some dads never compliment the adult child’s work, and that can drive them away,” he said.

(2) Who is considered family
“The daughter-in-law is the biggest fear factor for parents on the farm,” he says. “But if you exclude in-laws from the business and decisions, it will come back to haunt you.”

(3) Controlling parents
“Some parents actually raise their children to be followers,” he said. “Their adult children won’t become independent thinkers with their own initiative.”

(4) Transfer of Ownership
“If you are working on a farm with nothing but hopes, dreams, and promises, you are taking one heck of a risk,” he told them. “If things aren’t right, fix them. Set a deadline. If you have children, tell your parents that for your kids to have a future, you need to have a future.”

(5) Nonfarming children
Hanson asked, “Are your parents willing to treat all kids fair and equitably in their estate plan? Notice that I didn’t say equally. But their decisions need to be respected. Your parents don’t owe you a farm just because you love agriculture.”

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