SALEM — Passing a farm from one generation to the next can be difficult, but succession planning experts say there are many resources available to farmers to help them “hang up their hats” and equip a younger generation to carry on farming.

During the Northwest Ag Show at the Oregon State Fairgrounds last week, a group of experts convened to give farmers succession advice.

“There are so many different things involved in succession planning. It’s not just a will and trust,” said Nellie McAdams, executive director of Oregon Agricultural Trust. “It can sort of seem like unraveling a ball of yarn and not knowing where the end is.”

According to McAdams, 81% of farmers don’t have a succession plan. So, how can farmers become better prepared?

Diana Tourney, an accountant who runs workshops through Clackamas Community College’s Small Business Development Center, offered several pieces of advice.

First, she said, farmers should know their options. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all succession plan. For some farmers, the best option may be to transfer their land to direct heirs. Other farmers may choose to transfer land to non-relations. Yet others may choose a conservation easement.

It’s important to have conversations with potential successors early on, said Tourney. Are those successors competent yet? If they’re not ready, what needs to change?

“It’s important to know the family dynamics,” said Tourney.

Tourney said farmers should outline their non-negotiables versus areas where they’re willing to compromise.

It’s important too, Tourney said, to work with appraisers and know what your land is worth.

Tourney also encourages farmers to create clear goals, know changing tax laws and work with professionals, including an agricultural attorney, accountant and banker.

Molly McCargar, who grows hundreds of acres of broccoli, beans, cauliflower, squash, cherries, hops and grass seed at Pearmine Farms, a fourth-generation family farm in Gervais, Ore., also shared advice on succession planning from her experiences.

McCargar said one of the most valuable things she learned is to work with a family counselor or licensed therapist during succession planning to avoid family fallouts. McCargar said she has seen families torn apart while making succession plans. She believes going to counseling with her relatives saved her family a lot of heartache.

McCargar’s family also set up a group of advisers — including the then-CEO of Wilco and the leader of a cherry association — to meet with her family once a quarter for breakfast to exchange ideas.

“It’s good to have outside voices who don’t have a stake in the farm but understand your industry,” she said.

She said it’s wise to start the planning process years in advance. She and her brother, who now run the farm, started talking with their relatives about the succession plan around 2005, and it wasn’t finalized until about 2011. Now, McCargar is already thinking about the next generation.

McAdams, of the Oregon Agricultural Trust, said farmers who don’t have a successor can still keep their farmland in agriculture. The tool she recommends is called a working land conservation easement, a voluntary private contract between a landowner and a land trust or conservation district. Farmers benefit through cash payments or tax breaks and know their land will be protected for future agricultural use.

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