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Finding a way to pass the farm along

Agriculture journalist Al GustinAL GUSTIN

Every so often, you come across something that gets you thinking. It sticks in your head. You try to wrap your mind around it. A handwritten note from a ranch wife provided one of those things.

I had been part of a presentation that included stories about ranchers coping with calving at 30 degrees below zero and dealing with droughts and blizzards. The ranch wife wrote that the presentation “made a person wonder how we all managed to survive.” And then she added: “No wonder why many of the retiring generation hesitate to find a way to pass the farm along.”

Are retiring farmers and ranchers hesitant to find a way? If they are, why?

There was a time when some farmers didn’t want to find a way. They wanted their children to do something else; to have a better life. I talked to a man who’s been in the business of estate planning for decades who said that was the case for many farmers back in the agricultural depression of the 1980s. They wanted something else, something better, for their children. They didn’t look for a way to pass the farm along.

There was a time, too, when it was easier to find a way. A farmer I know was the youngest son in the family. His father decided that the farm would pass to the youngest son, if he wanted it. In some families, it was the oldest son who was given the first chance. Back then, estate planning was relatively easy, at least in some cases.

But the estate planner says that’s not true anymore, at least not for most people, including that farmer I just referred to. He, now, is faced with finding a way.

Not all retiring farmers are hesitant to find a way, the estate planner said. But some may be hesitant because finding a way to pass the farm along can be very daunting. Today, most farm and ranch estates are huge. Most operations are heavily capitalized. Today, the expectations of the heirs are different. The retirement needs and the lifestyle expectations of the retiring farmers are different. It’s understandable that many retiring producers would be hesitant to find a way. There is no path that is easy and fair.

Al Gustin is a retired farm broadcaster, active rancher and a member of Mor-Gran-Sou Electric Cooperative.