Program educates professionals on farm/ranch succession
As the lead tax specialist and farm succession planner for Farm Credit Services of Mandan, Pam Geiger is no stranger to assisting agricultural families with their financial needs.
She is aware that a significant number of families will be transitioning their farms from one generation to the next in the next few decades. Those families will need a professional to help them, she says, so when the North Dakota State University Extension Service offered a training program for those professionals, she enrolled in it.
The training program is targeted toward attorneys, accountants, agricultural lenders, estate and tax planners, financial and retirement advisers, and adult farm management instructors who already work with farm and ranch families. The training gives these professionals the knowledge to guide the families through the process of developing a succession plan.
“So many farm families start with great intentions and expectations but fail to follow through because the succession planning process seems so daunting,” Geiger notes. “A facilitator can help identify the client’s needs and break the process down into steps for them.”
Melissa Chruszch, a paralegal and certified succession planner at Legal Edge Solutions, a conflict resolution center and law office in Dickinson, attended Extension’s training program as an opportunity to help the firm expand its practice to include farm business succession planning. She says the knowledge she gained also is useful when helping farmers and ranchers manage their business as a result of the oil revenues they are receiving if they hold mineral interests.
“Farm families often get so stuck in the ‘way we’ve always done it’ that providing a fresh perspective and taking the time to do succession planning with these families could save them time, turmoil and even money,” she notes.
The training program for professionals is the next step in NDSU Extension’s Design Your Succession Plan program, which helps 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.
“As I work with farm and ranch families to get started with succession plans through our Design Your Succession Plan program, I often am asked who they can turn to for help in finishing the process,” says Ashley Ueckert, an Extension agent from Golden Valley County. “By hosting this training, NDSU Extension is expanding the network of professionals who will be trained to assist the families as they work through issues and conflicts while still providing the services they traditionally would.”
Professionals who complete the training and provide recommendations for a farm family as part of a case study are certified as succession coordinators. The NDSU Extension Service maintains a list of the certified succession coordinators and shares it with farm and ranch families looking for professionals to help them with succession planning.
For Russ Tweiten, vice president of agribusiness consulting and success ion and retirement planning at AgCountry Farm Credit Services in Fargo, the training program is vital.
“The farming and ranching community is underserved when it comes to farm succession, transition and retirement planning,” says Tweiten, who is a presenter for the Extension training program. “This work requires a certain amount of expertise that is not found in transitioning a business that may be found in town.
“Farms are a business but also a way of life,” he adds. “There is a lot of emotional attachment to a farm or ranch. And this training is needed to enlighten those who help farmers and ranchers so they understand that we are transitioning a business, but we also are dealing with someone’s way of life.”
The training helps professionals learn how to ask the right questions of farm and ranch families and ensure that families communicate well. The professionals also learn the importance of goal setting and finishing a task or project, the difference between fair and equal, and who to work with on each component of the succession plan.
“Understanding the need and role of a facilitator was very helpful,” Geiger says.
Chruszch was surprised by the presenters’ suggestion that the professionals help farm and ranch families think of their operation as a business and use common business practices to ensure buy-in of the succession planning process.
“I had never personally thought of using job descriptions in a family business setting, and it created the ‘ah ha’ moment for me in that training,” she says.
That also gave Tracy Laaveg, an attorney with the Sillers, Laaveg and Wenzel law firm in Park River, a new perspective on succession planning for farmers and ranchers.
“Simply talking about how we needed to redirect the thinking of families to the business side of the farm was new and very helpful,” she says. Laaveg recommends that other professionals who work with farm and ranch families take this training.
“I think getting families to take the time to sit down and actually communicate and make plans for the future is one of the hardest things to do,” she says. “This program sets out a blueprint to get families started on thinking about the future in a meaningful way, rather than just avoiding it and keep on working, and has the ability to challenge potentially negative assumptions about the plan for the future of the farm and the family that operates it.”
Extension may hold another training program if a number of professionals are interested in attending it. Visit https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/succession for information about the Design Your Succession Planning program and the dates of future training for succession professionals.