Farm families need to plan for next generation
Molly Pearmine McCarger returned to the family farm after a stint teaching.
Marie Bowers returned to her family’s farm after working in agricultural finance.
So did Macey Wessels, who managed a blueberry farm and processing plant.
More and more, women are returning to the family farm and taking charge.
This is part of the generational shift that agricultural economists talk about. As America’s farmers grow older — the average age is 57 — the younger generation must pick up the mantle. As the older generation considers passing along the family farm, all options must be considered.
These days, daughters can be as likely to take over the farm as the sons.
That’s as it should be. Farms are businesses that require knowledge of agriculture, finance, mechanics and many other fields. Whether that person is male or female is beside the point. Farming is an equal-opportunity profession.
One of the most difficult problems facing any farm family can be summed up in a single word: succession. That’s when a farmer approaching retirement age faces the question of what to do with the farm. Sometimes the farm has been built from scratch. Other times, it is a multi-generational operation. Either way, the farmer, along with the family, need to come up with a plan for the next generation.
In some families, the custom called for the oldest son to take over the farm. In others, the son — or daughter — with the most interest was designated. In some others, each child received an equal share of the farm.
These and many other alternatives emerge during a discussion of succession plans. Almost all of them can have pitfalls if all the aspects are not considered.
For example, a farmer may give an equal share to each child with the provision that one of them will buy out the others. But if the plan is not properly drawn up, the child still on the farm may have to take out a loan or sell part of the farm to do that. In some cases that can put the farm in a precarious financial position.
In still other cases, there’s no plan at all, and family members, under the worst of circumstances, must figure out what to do.
But just as no two families are the same, no two succession plans are the same.
Whether a daughter or a son ends up on the farm, all family members must be on board and treated fairly.