A farm couple from north-central Iowa has made a gift commitment to the Beginning Farmer Center at Iowa State University, which will allow others to help support the work of the program and carry it into the future.
Ron and Florine Swanson, through a deferred gift, will donate $125,000 to establish the Swanson Family Beginning Farmer Center Fund. By establishing the fund, other people and businesses can contribute to the center through gifts or can include the center in their will, making it part of their estate plan.
The center is jointly administered by ISU Extension and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. It conducts programs for farmers who want to transition their farm business to the next generation, and also provides help, information and encouragement for individuals who wish to get into farming.
“The Swansons have graciously and generously donated the money to establish this endowment fund, and we can’t thank them enough,” says Mike Duffy, ISU Extension farm economist and director of the Beginning Farmer Center. “What they’ve asked is that we use the money to help facilitate the transition of family farms from the current generation to the next generation.”
• Farm families have many things to consider in carrying out an estate plan.
• One is deciding on potential worthwhile organizations to which you can donate.
• Charitable gift giving has tax implications; you need to get professional advice.
Cultivating next generation
The Swansons recall when they began farming as a young couple years ago. Others helped them get started. “We hope this financial support will allow the center the flexibility to address its mission, to assist in the transition of farming operations from established farmers to beginning farmers,” says Ron.
The fund was announced at the annual Beginning Farmer Conference at ISU in February. ISU’s Beginning Farmer Network sponsors the meeting. The network, now in its fifth year, is an organization of students interested in farming or being closely involved with production agriculture as a career.
Speakers at the meeting pointed out that transferring family farms from one generation to the next isn’t an easy task, but information and guidance provided by the center’s programs is of great help.
The Iowa Legislature created the center in 1994 as part of ISU Extension to encourage new farmers. Some of the activities of the center include the Farm-On program, Ag Link seminars, consultations with farmers on critical issues, and development and distribution of educational materials.
Legacy carried forward
Ron, a 1961 farm operations graduate of Iowa State, returned to Wright County after college to farm south of Clarion. Florine, a 1964 home economics education graduate of Iowa State, married Ron and moved to Wright County.
In addition to farming and raising a family, she served as executive director of the Iowa 4-H Foundation from 1987 to 2005. Today they continue to farm in the same area near Galt, as does one of their sons, Stuart. Their children, Kendell, Stuart and Steven, are all ISU graduates.
“When I graduated from ISU, my father offered me an opportunity to come home and start farming,” says Ron. “When our son Stuart graduated from ISU, Florine and I offered him the opportunity to come back and join our operation.”
That’s what legacy is all about: succession and keeping family farms going. “Florine and I had an opportunity and were able to take advantage of it and start farming,” adds Ron. “By establishing this endowment fund to continue the programs of the Beginning Farmer Center, others will help keep the effort alive in the future.”
The Swansons feel strongly that the commitment of young people is needed today to carry on leadership in rural Iowa. “Young people are vital to serve as leaders of farm organizations, co-ops, community groups, civic organizations, churches and schools to inspire and keep our rural communities strong,” says Ron. “Long term, I’m optimistic about the future of agriculture. There are lots of opportunities for young people to be involved in it.”
Iowa 4-H also remembered
The Swansons have also put the Iowa 4-H Foundation in their estate plan. This gift will go to the Iowa 4-H program to support programs at the 4-H Education Center camp. “Ron and I met when we were students at ISU,” explains Florine. “We were both involved in Campus 4-H, now known as Collegiate 4-H.”
The first farm they rented came with the stipulation that the person farming it had to be married. “We weren’t thinking about saving a legacy, we were thinking about how we were going to survive trying to get started in farming,” Florine recalls. “But because we began with rented land, machinery we bought at farm sales and using equipment and things Ron’s dad no longer needed, we got our start.”
In the 1980s, the farm financial crisis struck agriculture. Two of their three sons were students at ISU at the time. Florine was a volunteer on boards and involved in community and state activities. The opportunity arose to take a paying job at ISU, and she eventually became executive director of the Iowa 4-H Foundation, a job she enjoyed and was devoted to for 18 years. “That was my passion,” she says. “We always were a true green family.”
Plan your gift giving
In that role, Florine saw many give generously to 4-H, in volunteer time and in treasure. “Very few people are million-dollar donors,” she says, “but everyone has a level at which they can give.”
There are tax benefits to donating part of your estate to a qualified charity, and individuals who are considering doing something like this should discuss it with their tax adviser and attorney, says Neil Harl, ISU emeritus professor of agricultural law. The Swansons decided to take some of Florine’s retirement benefits she earned working for ISU and donate that to the Beginning Farmer Center and the Iowa 4-H Foundation. For a self-employed farmer, retirement benefits might be an IRA, for example.
Another consideration: What would your children say? They may say, “Whatever you want to do, Mom and Dad, is fine with us.” There likely will be times later on when they may say, “It would have been nice if you’d have given that money to us.” However, the children would be taxed on those dollars. It can be better to give the children land, stock or insurance instead of your retirement benefits. The retirement benefits may be better off donated to your church or other qualified tax-sheltered charitable organizations.
Florine sums up the decision she and Ron made on these two gifts to give to the Beginning Farmer Center and the Iowa 4-H Foundation: “We wanted to say thank you for some of the things that have been quite important in our lives: ISU, 4-H and agriculture.”