Families appreciate NDSU Extension farm/ranch succession help

ff_admin
Farm Forum

Donnybrook-area producer David Miller has six children, but only one, a son, is interested in taking over the small-grains farm.

The 68-year-old Miller wants to retire this year, and he’d like to find a way to transfer the farm to his son while being fair to the rest of his children.

He’d worked with a farm transfer professional in Bismarck and an attorney in Minot, but their recommendations didn’t quite fit with what he had in mind. Then two years ago, he attended one of the North Dakota State University Extension Service’s Design Your Succession Plan (DYSP) workshops.

“I felt this was what I really needed,” he says. “It gave me a road map to do what I want to do.”

He thought the workshop was so helpful that he attended it again this year with his wife, Sharon.

NDSU Extension offered DYSP at 19 sites across North Dakota in the past few months. One goal is to help families start on their succession planning and determine their vision for the farm or ranch, whether that’s transferring a viable business to the next generation or deciding how to divide the farm or ranch assets.

“Many producers tell us they know succession planning is important, but it is hard to get started and easy to put off,” says Crystal Schaunaman, an Extension agent in McIntosh County. “We use a workbook to get families started right at our workshops. They have more work to do at home, but we do get them started.”

The workbook was one of the best parts of the program for Miller.

“It gets you to sit down and list your assets and go through your situation,” he says.

“One of the benefits of this program is bringing families together,” says Paige Brummund, an Extension agent in Ward County. “We give them time to discuss their future plans during the class and how the operation can be transitioned to the next generation. Another benefit is farmers and ranchers talking to each other and sharing their experiences with succession planning with each other.”

Miller says this sharing worked very well because other couples brought up issues that hadn’t occurred to him and his wife.

Annette Rockeman and her family, who have a cow-calf operation near Donnybrook and raise spring wheat, canola, field peas, corn and hay, also attended the workshop twice.

“We still have so much to learn, even after attending two sessions of classes,” Rockeman says. “However, we have really gotten a good understanding of what we need to do to get things taken care of efficiently and properly.”

The workshop held some surprises for her.

“Passing down the business is not just getting your will in order to say who gets what,” she says. “We need to constantly be focusing on the future by training the next generation in their upcoming leadership roles.”

The most important part of the program for her was realizing that communication is vital to a successful succession plan.

“We have included information in the workshop on how to start the conversation and how to hold family meetings, along with activities to further the family discussions,” says Extension family economics specialist Lori Scharmer, who helped develop the program.

“This program is a good starting point for family conversations about succession planning,” says Powers Lake-area producer Marlow Nelson.

Another program goal is to prepare families to work with legal and financial professionals who will assist them in putting their succession plan together.

The attendees say they definitely would recommend the program to others.

“Attending this session is such an eye-opener to the whole succession process,” Rockeman says.

When surveyed after completing the workshop, 87 percent of participants said they likely will continue to work on their succession plan. A year after the pilot workshops in 2014, 75 percent said they’ve worked on their plan and 81 percent said they’ve talked with their family about their plan.

The need for farm/ranch transition planning was one issue North Dakotans emphasized during community forums NDSU Extension held throughout the state last fall, and these survey results indicate Extension’s DYSP program is meeting that need and making a difference, Schaunaman notes.

The next Design Your Succession Plan workshops will start in October. Visit http://bit.ly/DYSPtips to sign up for succession planning tips.