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Wilt Family

Wilt Family

Succession planning is key as Tyler Wilt continues his family's farming legacy.

By Joann Pipkin

Remnants of a troubled crop year dominate the scenery this late summer morning, a gentle reminder of the relentless resilience of the hands that tilled the fertile soil. Each field is all its own as Highway 54 leads us from the state capital. A jog through Audrain County’s metropolis, past the land of green tractors and black cows, takes us to the quiet, two-lane that journeys into the gently rolling hills of the northeast. 

Silver statues glisten in the sunshine as corn tassles in the distance. Cows graze abundant forage; it’s full circle from the previous 365 days when parched pastures yearned for a drink.

Tyler Wilt corn

And so, it is. Through the decades, the hurdles Mother Nature has placed on the track remain the same, yet the next generation comes face-to-face with trials all their own. Acquiring land and capital meet head on with technological advances, labor challenges, an aging farm population and succession planning. 

But in Monroe County, just south of Shelbina, the topsy-turvy two-lane leads us to a legacy far richer than the soil. Here, young Tyler Wilt brings with him a generations’ old tradition as he lives out the commission established by his forefathers. 

Earning his Place
At 29, Tyler Wilt will tell you he never wanted to do anything other than farm. 

In 2007 as a high school sophomore, he started row cropping on his own. Then the following year, after the death of his paternal grandfather, McVae Wilt, Tyler purchased one-quarter of the family’s Angus and row crop operation; his parents, David and Lori Wilt, own the remaining three-fourths. He was just 17 at the time. 

Tyler Wilt cattle

While Tyler says he brought labor and a strong back to the family operation, a cow herd he had been developing since childhood came along as well. As a young child, Tyler’s grandparents had purchased a heifer for him. Over the years, he was able to save offspring to help grow his herd. 

After graduating from South Shelby High School, Tyler earned a technical degree in agriculture business management from John Wood Community College in Quincy, Illinois. 

Now working full time alongside his father, the sixth-generation farmer is among the minority when it comes to the age of someone involved in production agriculture today. Though his entry into production agriculture has been no cake walk, Tyler realizes just how blessed he is to have come home to a supportive family in a well-established operation where succession planning has taken center stage. 

Wilt soybean plant

“I’ve been blessed with some help, but I feel like I’ve worked hard to earn that help,” Tyler explains. “I feel like I’ve been appreciated for the work I’ve done.”

As a youngster growing up on the farm, Tyler says it wasn’t customary to earn a paycheck. Instead, he might have been paid with a cow or have been helped in some other way. It was that precedent that makes him treasure the opportunities that lie on the horizon.

Today, Tyler and his father, David, grow corn and soybeans in addition to raising Angus cattle. Their herd consists of about 220 cows as well as replacement heifers and bulls, some of which are sold privately off the farm each year to commercial cattlemen. They also participate regularly in the Show-Me-Select Replacement Heifer program and the Northeast Missouri Tested Bull Sale. 

The duo manages the operation in tandem, each consulting the other on major purchase decisions. They share each other’s equipment and join forces in farm labor regardless of the task at hand. 

“We always talk about very big purchases, whether I’m buying, or he is,” Tyler explains. “Nobody on a whim goes and buys a tractor or anything really.”

David chimes in, “We ask for permission, not forgiveness.”

Planning for the Future
Tyler Wilt with cattle

Tyler’s mom, Lori, also comes from a well-rooted farming family, further strengthening her son’s passion for the industry and helping set the stage for the future.

While succession planning can often be the elephant in the room for many farm families, it has been an integral part of Tyler’s heritage. 

“I’m going to give up responsibilities, and with responsibilities needs to come more income or more benefit,” David explains.

Lori adds, “I don’t want Tyler to be dragging along when we’re ready to retire. We’re going to start selling him land or whatever. We’re not going to make him wait until we die, because that’s a hardship on him.”

As a legal secretary, Lori brings unique insight to the family operation. “There should be no surprises,” she says of the need for farm families to implement succession planning. “Everybody should be on board because if sister is unhappy after we’re gone, she’s going to be mad at (Tyler). And, he didn’t have anything to do with it.”

Having experienced succession planning with each of their own family farming operations, Tyler’s parents bring a wealth of experience on the subject to the table. 

Tyler Wilt and cattle

“It’s definitely my goal to try and avoid any kind of bad feelings or confrontation,” Lori says. “(Non-farm) heirs are going to get something, and it would be my plan that there would be other assets besides just land and cows and whatever that they could be taken care of, too.”

David, too, realizes Tyler is investing his life into their farming enterprise. “Getting everything out in the open so everybody knows (is critical),” he says. 

While David and Lori have been open regarding their transition goals, Tyler is quick to point out that their forethought helps him plan for his own future. 

“It might make some purchases easier knowing that if Mom and Dad do die, I don’t have to come up with all of this money to buy my sister out, or that a big land sale or a big fight will be the result,” Tyler says. 

The Wilts say sooner is far better than later when it comes to implementing a succession plan. “The amount of stuff you have really shouldn’t enter into the discussion, but you should have a plan in place so that if something happens to the parents, it’s known who is going to take care of the children,” David says. 

Lori says succession plans can always be changed, too. Involving your ag lender as well as your accountant is also key. 

“I want my kids to still get along and support each other, and I don’t want somebody to be mad after the fact when I’m not here to referee,” she explains.

Finding a Partner
An aging farm population and the need for succession planning are only drops in the bucket young farmers like Tyler are faced with when entering production agriculture. Acquiring capital can sometimes be the most challenging issue for the next generation of farmers.  

Tyler Wilt with Jack Glover from FCS Financial

Yet with the help of FCS Financial and the opportunities it offers young, beginning farmers, Tyler was able to secure financing for real estate and equipment purchases as well as general farm operations. 

“(FCS Financial) is our partner,” Tyler says. “They’re invested in our business.”

As a member of FCS Financial’s Connect program, Tyler says the experience has been instrumental in helping him learn from his peers. “We’re so important to the industry,” he says of himself and other young producers.

Both the Wilts and FCS Financial’s Jack Glover realize keeping an open, honest relationship about the operation’s future plans is key to its success.

“In my opinion, farm families need to give some predictability to whoever’s going to be involved in the farm, and that way they can make plans today for what will happen in the future,” Glover explains. “(The Wilts) have been good at analyzing what they want and felt like they could afford. They’ve budgeted. They make good, rational decisions and have looked at (their purchases) from a business standpoint.”

For FCS Financial, the Wilts’ multigenerational operation is exciting to be a part of. “I think they represent what’s good about a farm family,” Glover says. “Yes, it’s a good situation for Tyler because he’s got some assets that he can work with that come from his parents. But more important is the fact that (his parents) are willing to let him work in the operation, have a big say in it, participate in it, own part of it and grow with them as they grow.”

Carrying on Grandpa’s Farm
Parents give their children a lot over the course of a lifetime. Yet, giving them predictability for the future just might be one of the most valuable assets money can’t buy. And farm succession planning is just that — predictability for the future. 

Looking back on his family’s operation, David is quick to reiterate the value the succession planning discussion has had in the situation with his siblings, none of whom are involved in the farm. Those plans were outlined by David’s parents, with their wishes discussed, before his father passed away. 

Tyler views the succession planning his parents and grandparents have put in place as truly a way to help him plan for the future while carrying on his family’s legacy. 

“It’s good to know that I can go on and buy that tractor or that other farm that was on my list because if something does happen, I already have a plan in place to know how I can make things work,” he explains. 

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