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Nathan Lunde, center, speaks to his son, David, right, during an NDSU Extension Service workshop on the topic of farm transition and succession planning at the Hope (N.D.) Senior Center on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017. Nick Nelson / Agweek

Workshops help farmers figure out how to pass on the farm

HOPE, N.D. — Nathan Lunde knows a lot about cattle. But the Cooperstown, N.D., rancher doesn't know as much as he wants about farm succession — and that's something he's determined to change.

"I've reached the age (60) where I need to start thinking about stepping away, especially since David (his son) has come back," Nathan Lunde said. "Coming here will help with that."

Nathan Lunde, his wife, Marybeth, and David were among the dozen people who attended a North Dakota State University Extension workshop on succession planning Nov. 21 in Hope, N.D. Various family units — husbands and wives; husbands, wives and sons; and fathers and sons — came to learn more about developing a strategy to pass on the farm generation.

The Nov. 21 Hope workshop was the first of three sessions on succession planning. The was held Nov. 28 and the final one will be on Dec. 5.

The first workshop dealt with getting started. It helped participants determine what they want their succession plan to involve and their retirement to look like.

The Nov. 28 workshop dealt with how the older participants view their legacy and how to start conversations with the younger generation.

The Dec. 5 session will help participants learn how to use professionals to help with their succession plan.

"This is such an important topic. But it's something that too often doesn't get the attention it should," said Kelcey Hoffman, a Cass County extension agent who helped to organize the event and spoke at it. Griggs County and Steele County extension also helped to organize the workshop, which drew attendees from all three countries.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and farm organizations offer these statistics to make the point:

• The average age of U.S. farmers is 58.

• 70 percent of U.S. farmland likely will change hands during the next two decades.

• Roughly half of farmers don't have an estate plan.

Farmers and ranchers generally understand the importance of succession planning, Hoffman and others say.

But the subject is so complicated — and often fraught with emotion — that ag producers often are reluctant to get started, experts say.

"It's not an easy thing to talk about, especially when family members are involved. But you need to do it. The key is to start — and getting started can be an extremely difficult process," Hoffman said.

Farm succession usually, though not always, involves family members. That infuses planning with extra emotion and can cause farm families to shy away away from starting.

Parents and children don't always see things the same. Nor do husbands and wives who are preparing to pass on their farm to the next generation. Siblings can disagree among themselves, too.

Disagreements often focus on the fair treatment of children. Experts stress the need to treat children equitably, not equally. Dividing farm property equally among several children, only one of whom will farm, can give the next-generation farmer little, if any, chance of success.

"That's what we really talk about here. Making sure the farm business will remain viable, that it can move forward," Hoffman said.

Experts once urged beginning work on a succession plan at least five years before the anticipated transition. Now, they advise starting 10 years in advance, to better prepare for taxes and other financial considerations.

But the most important thing isn't "when you start, it's that you start," Hoffman said.

The NDSU extension workshops will be held at eight other sites across North Dakota, as well. Some sites began offering the three-session workshops in November, others in December. The rest are scheduled to begin in January.

More information:

To read another Agweek story about succession planning, click here.