Friday, March 17, 2017

Farm Business Transition

By John Berry, Penn State Extension Educator, Lehigh County

Many of the farmers I work for have a tough time with the process of getting their business into the hands of the next owner/manager. The reasons for this are many; no time, unwilling to think about mortality, not aware of what should happen, and uncertainty about losing control are some of the primary reasons often heard. Because of the intimate relationship between most farms and the families that work and live there; the unknowns around a broad family conversation on business transition can be a bit scary.


When is the best time to start the discussion?


If succession planning has been on your mind remember there are just six weeks left in 2016 and some holiday celebrations coming up. This could be a great time for a discussion with family regarding farm transition and succession planning. It's great that you're thinking about succession planning, but remember, conversations about farm succession are conducted from a business standpoint. Do you really want to turn your Thanksgiving table into a business conference table?  Do you want to take your time around the Christmas tree and turn it into a water cooler discussion on strategic planning?


While it may be tempting to start these discussions while family is home and together, make sure you're keeping family time for family and setting aside a special time for holding a family business meeting. If it needs to be connected to a holiday to have family present, think about sending out a formal invitation and agenda to the meeting ahead of the holiday, with a set time and date for the meeting later in the holiday weekend.


When should I start planning?


You may have heard the old Chinese proverb. “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second bet time is now.” That same principal can be applied to succession planning.  It really is NEVER too early to start planning for the future, but it can become too late to start!  Almost everyone knows a family torn apart by disagreements following the passing of a loved one. This often happens because they never found the time to put their plans down on paper.


You can never tell what tomorrow will bring. Starting your succession plan early in your agriculture career can help you save money and can make sure your business continues as you see fit in the case of retirement, death or disability.  If you create a plan early in your career, it does not mean you are done.  A good succession plan is reviewed and improved often to make sure it still fits with the wants and needs of everyone involved in the operation.