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New Century Farmers: Don't neglect farm succession planning

Ron Hanson wasn't at this week's New Century Farmers conference in Des Moines, Iowa, to make friends. He told the 50+ college-aged attendees so.

Instead, the University of Nebraska agribusiness specialist said he was there to tell attendees just what they'd be facing in the future. It won't be easy, he said at this week's conference sponsored by Pioneer Hi-Bred, Rabo AgriFinance, Case IH and Successful Farming magazine, but he shared ways for young and beginning farmers to answer the tough farm succession and ownership questions they'll face in the future.

Talking from his personal experience, Hanson says the attendees should know three things about farm families:

  1. Farm families are private. "They hold their cards up to their nose so no one else can see them," Hanson says. "They want to know what the neighbors are doing, but don't want them to know what we are doing."
  2. Families have favorites when it comes to children. Hanson says conflict usually comes from jealousy of the parents doing something for one child and not the other.
  3. Everything in farming is one big secret. Or, at least that is how some families "talk" about their wills and plans for the future.

Hanson mapped out 5 points for the students to consider when they talk to their parents about their own succession.

  1. The role of the father and mother. "Dad wears two hats," Hanson explains. "The 'boss hat' and the 'dad hat.' When dad is wearing the 'boss hat,' his children are employees. When he is wearing the 'dad hat,' he is understanding of his children's feelings." Hanson says it is important to distinguish the two, and know that dad will be wearing one of the "hats."

    Most women, according to Hanson, outlive their husbands by 9 years. He stressed the importance of knowing that mother may not always agree with father, and things may not go according to plans if father dies before mother.

Who is in the family? Hanson says families need to determine at the onset of succession who is considered part of the family. He is also a fan of pre-nuptial agreements, especially for second marriages. "No one gets upset when everyone knows what happens if there is a death or divorce," Hanson says.

Are the parents controlling? Hanson says some families raise children to be followers and are expected to do exactly as the parents say. "No child should have to return to the farm when their dreams lie elsewhere," Hanson says.

Who will take ownership of the farm? The biggest mistake children can make, Hanson says, is to farm the same way their parents did. Who really owns the farm? Parents and children need to discuss who has ownership and what changes are expected when the ownership changes.

What happens to non-farming children? Hanson says this is the most sensitive issue to discuss because children should be treated fairly and equitably, not equally. "This isn't a question of love, but of fairness," he says. "The key is to start planning early. Parents need to give kids a chance to react to the situation."

Hanson says he wants the students to take away they need to play the cards out in the deck, no matter what they think their situation is. "If it isn't down in writing, it isn't good," he says.

Ron Hanson wasn't at this week's New Century Farmers conference in Des Moines, Iowa, to make friends. He told the 50+ college-aged attendees so.

Betsy Walter has started the conversation with her family, but feels Henson's session provided more topics to bring up. The Elkhorn, Wisconsin, farmer is currently majoring in dairy science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Walter's family operation includes 90 head of registered Holsteins and a feedlot for 100-head of steers. The family farms 2,465 acres.

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