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Farm succession: Helping families nurture the next generation

The Issue

A profitable, owner-operated system of agriculture is necessary for the economic well being of our rural communities. Many farmers will retire in the next two decades and younger people are needed to carry on these farm businesses.

Young people have little opportunity to enter farming, and even those whose parents have a farm may lose the opportunity because of poor succession and estate planning. Several surveys have found that as many as 64 percent of landowners do not have estate plans. Careful planning is needed for families to provide retirement for the senior members and farming opportunities for the next generation.

What Has ANR Done?

Farm advisor Deborah Giraud has offered statewide conferences and regional workshops on farm succession by partnering with California Farmlink, a statewide non-profit organization. In addition, she conducts individual consultations with farmers and ranchers in Humboldt County. Speakers at the conferences and workshops included Steven Blank of UC Davis, Rod Carter of Northern California Farm Credit, Steve Swartz of California FarmLink, and many other consultants, lawyers, land trust directors and accountants. Motivating producers to act on succession planning is the main objective. The Western Region Risk Management Agency provided grant funds to offer the conferences at a lower cost in order to reach wider audiences. Understanding the risks of not planning in advance (family upheaval, loss of property due to high estate tax obligations, business failures, etc.) motivates families to work together. Ultimately, the owner generation must understand it is their responsibility to create legal documents and put the plans in action after family communication.

The Payoff

Families plan for the future

Getting family members across the generations together to learn techniques and work seriously on this topic has had positive effects. About 70 families (200 people) have attended these events. Each family is unique and the outcomes are individual and personal. Statistical outcomes, such as acres of farmland still in production, are hard to come by in this very dynamic and long-term arena, but we believe that the educational outreach has affected the future of California farming and ranching in a lasting way. Overall, we heard positive stories from individuals such as: "I slowed down and realized I was pressuring my 25-year-old." "Grandpa listened to us and realizes he needs better estate planning tools." "My off-farm heir respects her on-farm sister more." "We understand sweat equity now, and issues of fairness." "We met with a land trust about a conservation easement." "We shared the financials with our son while home on spring break and we signed up for more workshops!"


Supporting Unit: Humboldt County Office

California FarmLink
Deborah Giraud,(707) 445-7351, ddgiraud@ucdavis.edu