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Your No. 1 job – replace yourself

If you want your farm or ranch to continue after you die or retire, your No. 1 job now is to find someone who can take over and be successful.

“You have to find someone to replace yourself,” says Jolene Brown, a West Branch, Iowa, farmer and expert on farm succession planning.

Key Points

Deciding how to pass on the farm is not an easy process.

Bosses and owners need to become the mentors of their replacements.

Parents don’t owe the farm business to their kids.


Brown speaks to thousands of farmers each year in the U.S. and Canada about succession planning and is known for her humor and plain talk. She spoke at a number of events in the Dakotas this fall and made the following points about some of the most difficult issues surrounding family communication and transferring the farm and ranch:

Become a mentor

If you are in your 50s, you need to be shifting from being the manager and worker to being a mentor. That may be easier to say than do, Brown says. Something that will help you make progress toward that goal is to create a management chart. List all the tasks on the farm in a column and all the names of family members, spouses and employees involved in the farm in rows.

Then identify who is responsible for each job, who does the work on each job, who needs to be consulted on each job and who needs to be informed on each job. Label each job by person with the following:

R = Responsible

W = Does the work

C = Needs to be consulted

I = Needs to be informed

If you want the farm to survive your retirement or death, you need to move more and more “R’s” and “W’s” out of your column.

Business is not a birthright

Parents don’t owe their kids a business, Brown reminds her audiences.

Parents owe their kids morals, values and an opportunity for an education, she says — but not a business.

Compensation confusion

There’s a lot of confusion about fair compensation in farm country. Some kids don’t think they are getting paid enough, and some parents think their kids are asking for way too much money. Many times both may be wrong, Brown says.

Consider this:

According to the USDA, the average cost of living for a farm family of four by year was:

1967 – $4,000

1986 – $20,000

2010 – $61,000

When kids figure out what they are being paid, they often forget about the house, cell phone, vehicle, fuel, meat and many other items provided by the farm or ranch.

Figure out what the total compensation package is, not just the amount on the paycheck, Brown suggests.

Not rehab

The most difficult situations on the farm involve family members whose problems are affecting the family and the business. Alcoholism, drug abuse, child abuse and divorce are all too common problems, Brown says.

“A farm isn’t the place to rehab someone,” she says. “Get professional help.”

Common lies

According to Brown, the three biggest lies told on the farm are:

“Work hard. Someday this will all be yours.”

“I’m going to retire.” Farmers who won’t retire are making a mistake if they want their farm to continue on after they die, she says. Most people get more conservative as they get older and quit taking risks. But for a farm or ranch to succeed, the operator has to be willing to take calculated risks.

“Don’t worry about your brothers and sisters. They have their jobs. They’re not interested in the business.” Some children turn into “wealth harvesters” after their parents die, Brown says. You can’t ever be sure what will happen to your estate unless you have a written, legal document.

Learn more

You can learn more from Brown at www.jolenebrown.com.

How the Browns plan to pass on their farm

Jolene Brown and her husband, Keith, are looking outside of their family for someone to continue their corn and soybean farm near West Branch, Iowa. Neither of their daughters, who have their own careers and families, is interested in operating the farm. Jolene and Keith have identified several young people in their community who they would like their daughters to rent the farm to after they die. They have even set down some rules about how long their daughters have to hold onto the land before they sell it (two years) and who they should hire to draw up a fair rental agreement.

“We told our girls that they’ll get their money – eventually – but the legacy of the land is more important to us than their immediate inheritance,” she says. — Lon Tonneson


This article published in the January, 2012 edition of DAKOTA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.