Succession plan helps assure sustainability
By DOUG WARNOCK
For the Capital Press
Last month at the annual meeting of the National Association of County Agricultural Agents, I heard much talk about sustainable agriculture.
Anytime we talk about sustainable agriculture, we need to define it. There are people using the term for a commercial advantage who "forget" to include the three necessary components. To be truly sustainable, an operation must have these three components: be economically viable, environmentally sound and socially acceptable. Only with these three is an operation sustainable.
Who gets the farm?
Another aspect of sustainability that was brought out at the meeting is who gets the family farm. The succession of the family farm from one generation to the next is truly a part of making the farming operation sustainable.
If it is sold and lost to the family that worked so hard to develop it, or is split into economically unviable units, then it is lost to agriculture. Planning for succession is something that should be done for every farm and ranch, but is seldom done effectively.
The services of an experienced attorney, an accountant and other professionals is very useful in designing the succession package for the farm.
However, before engaging these professionals, some important discussions need to take place within the farm family. There are many issues, which can arise when a family is working through a transition and it is key that this is done in a manner that doesn't disturb the regular operation of the farm or ranch business.
Ron Hanson, agricultural economist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, related many situations in which the intended heir didn't inherit the land, or the heirs disagreed because of poor planning and inadequate communication.
Communication among the family members is essential to knowing what each family member wants and needs. It is also important that the parents inform the children and their spouses of their intentions, so that plans can be made by the next generation for their future. Unspoken intentions make for heartbreak, disappointment and disputes.
Considerations should include what happens if one parent outlives the other. We all know of cases where Dad was the sole authority on management decisions and when he was gone, no one was prepared to take over the management.
I know of situations in which the adult children each think they have a bigger claim to the farm. This can lead to terrible disagreements and severed relationships.
Too many times poor communications have resulted in the farm being sold or being divided into smaller components that are no longer economically viable. The long-term sustainability of the farm or ranch depends on keeping it in production and a well designed succession plan can help ensure that outcome.
Start by sitting down and talking about the farm's future.
Doug Warnock, retired from Washington State University Extension, now lives on a ranch in the Touchet River Valley where he consults and writes on ranch management.