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October 22, 2006 - The Future: Let’s Look Ahead and Plan for It!

While preparing for his first Farm Bill Forum in the studios of RFD-TV in Nashville this past July, Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns said one of the topics he wanted to talk about was providing a favorable climate for young people to get into production agriculture today. Indeed that topic did come up at that first Farm Bill Forum, and I think, at every Forum since.

There is concern in the agricultural community about the high average age of today’s farmers and ranchers. You hear many people lamenting the fact that the only way young people can get into agriculture today is if they inherit the farm from their parents or relatives, and indeed, that is the case in many instances. Yet, there is no sense in wringing our hands over that because it has happened for generations, not just in farming and ranching but in other businesses as well.

If inheriting the farm or ranch is how your young people are going to get into agriculture, a word of advice. Make certain you have the succession plan written in legal language so there is no question in anyone’s mind what you want done. It is very difficult emotionally for everyone in the family to sit down with Mom and Dad to talk about life after they are gone, but it needs to be done sooner, rather than later.

I have heard too many stories of families being torn apart because language in a will did not clearly spell out the terms of the transition of the farm to the chosen heir. It is equally important to spell out the terms of how siblings who want no part of the farm are able to convert their part of the inheritance into cash. All too often the demand for cash immediately will make it impossible for the person inheriting the farm to have enough resources to continue the farming operation.

There is another way young people can perhaps get into farming today. This idea comes as a result of what I have received over the past year; two letters from elderly farmers with no family and no heirs asking if I could help them locate a young person with a strong interest in farming. Both men, in different parts of the country and not related, said they would be willing to work out a financial arrangement that would bring the young person into the business and to ultimately become the owner of the farm.

I wonder if there is a way we can establish a clearing house to bring people like that together; farmers with no heirs who want to leave a farming legacy and young people who truly want to farm, but have no chance of inheriting a family farm. I don’t have the answer, but would welcome your ideas on how it might be done because I believe it would be a win/win situation.

Some ideas to ponder as we look for the next generation of farmers.

My thoughts on Samuelson Sez.