Wittman: Farmers Must Change How They Look At Succession Planning
It may be an uncomfortable topic, but one more and more farmers need to have.
What happens to the farm after the current generation no longer wants to, or can no longer perform the day to day operation? Dick Wittman of Wittman Consulting in north central Idaho said the first step to proper succession planning is to reevaluate the definition of success.
Many farmers, he noted provide a good life for their family and community, but get discouraged or even depressed if their children are not interested in continuing the family farm.
Wittman says that’s only one of many options.
He said if the next generation is not interested in returning to the farm, look at hiring a temporary operator, or wait until the grandchildren are older to see if they have an interested, or look at the possibility of bringing on a partner.
“What you don’t want to see is this narrow minded thinking that ‘alright, no one wants the business, nobody wants the farm, so I’m just going to sell it or put a conservation easement on it or sell it to a developer and get out’. Many of those farms, really have the opportunity to continue to grow food and provide a career for somebody else and they’re looking for frankly, a lot of people are looking for a farm opportunity that needs a sponsor or somebody that can help them get into the business.”
Wittman said regardless of commodity, farmers are very smart people, so they need to educate themselves about succession planning, and what options exist. And that, he says often starts with selecting the right advisory team.
“And I stress the term team, there’s no one person who can help you do your succession planning. But you do need a quarterback that puts all of your local advisory team together and makes them work as a team. And that’s often what’s missing in succession planning. You have really good attorneys who write good estate plans, but they’ll tell you ‘hey, I’m no good at succession planning’, or you have insurance salesmen who dabble in succession planning, but really, they’re there to sell insurance. And product salesmen will tell you they’re experts on succession planning, but it’s hard to separate the firewall from selling product to advising without having a biased of what you’re going to get sold.”
When looking at establishing the right team, Wittman says it’s important to determine early on who is going to be the facilitator of the process.
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