Together We Can Make A Difference (Part 1)

By Kevin Spafford on October 7, 2020

Stewardship of Creation

[Editor’s Note: This is Part 1 of a two part blog story. Read Part 2 here.]

“I’m part of the fifth generation in my family to work on what has become a large, vertically integrated farming operation. Our family settled here, after immigrating from the ‘old country,’ at the turn of the 20th Century. Like most in those days, my great-grandparents started as dairy farmers.

Today, we control about 6,000 acres of the best farmland in the county. My parents, both in their late eighties, do not have any plans to pass the farm on to the next generation, don’t know where to start, or who can help.

My dad says, ‘There won’t be any disputes. The auctioneer will be here after the funeral, and everything will be settled by the end of the day.’ He likes to remind us, it’s not ours. It’s on loan from the Lord and it’s ours to use only as long as we live according to His word and share the many blessings we’ve received with others.

My three brothers and I all work on the farm and have invested countless hours into growing the operations. Dad and mom own all the land and most of the equipment. My brothers and their children have no desire to stay on the farm after dad passes. However, my two sons and I would like to continue.

What can we do and how do we proceed?”

This is just one example of the type of inquiries I receive on a regular basis. Though varied in tone, each one asks the what, why, who, when, and how of planning for succession.

Passing a farm or family business to the next generation, as a going concern, is difficult and rare. Experience tells us that 70% of first-generation operations will not transition to a second generation. Of those that do make it, 90% will not go to a third. And, of the few remaining after that, 96% will not go to a fourth.

Succession will not happen without effort, determination, and a plan. Noteworthy achievement is difficult in any endeavor, especially when it involves family, business, or finance. Combine these highly charged themes with human emotions and you may create a flash flame that, at best, destroys only the business and, at worst, the family. Succession planning can be intimidating.

For this inquiring farmer, immediate action, no matter how difficult, is critical. Right now he’s caught between a rock (dad and mom) and a hard place (his brothers who have no desire to continue). As a family in business, these people are risking everything. Reading between the lines, there are several issues that should be addressed. From his notes it appears the family suffers from:

  1. A lack of effective communication.
  2. No focus on common objectives.
  3. A reluctance to face their differences and work through difficult issues.

I recommend this farmer take a stand and resolve that ‘failure is not an option.’

— Kevin Spafford, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, specializes in succession planning for farming professionals and family business owners. His firm, Legacy by Design, LLC has offices in Yuba City, CA and Spokane, WA. He is also a member of Catholic Rural Life. Kevin can be reached at (530) 671-2100 or kevin@legacy-by-design.com

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