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Written by Wesley Tucker, Farm & Ranch Transition Specialist, University of Missouri Extension

Wesley Tucker portrait

Would you be happy if the day after your funeral livestock trailers show up to haul all your animals to the sale barn, the estate auction is scheduled to sell the machinery, and the farm is listed with the realtor?  Is that what you want the future of your farm to be?  If not, I suggest you take farm succession seriously.  If you don’t, there’s a decent chance for a portion of you that may very well be your legacy. 

All too often I see families avoid the difficult conversations about farm succession because they know there will be conflict.  Different expectations among family members (especially between on-farm and off-farm heirs) and the potential of offending someone paralyzes us with fear.  Let’s face it, no one enjoys conflict.  So instead of dealing with it, we ignore it.  Does that mean it goes away? Of course not.  Leaving it for your kids to sort out after you are gone is a recipe for disaster.  I promise you it is much easier to confront difficult issues now while the parents are still alive than it will be for the kids to deal with it after you are gone.

Several years ago at a conference, I heard speaker Rena Striegel, President of Transition Point Business Advisors and Founder of the DIRTT Project, describe succession planning as an airport runway.  She asked the audience if they had ever been on a large plane forced to land on a shorter runway than it really needed.  The moment the tires touched down the pilot was forced to slam on the brakes and hit the reverse thrusters.  Passengers are pinned against their seat belts and thrown back and forth.  These landings are really rough and come at great risk of personal injury to passengers.  Worse yet, the plane has the potential to go off the runway to crash and burn. 

When you choose to begin the farm succession discussion is very much like that airport runway.  The sooner you begin talking about it the longer your runway is and the smoother your landing can be. But if you wait until dad has just been diagnosed with cancer so you only have six months to work everything out, or even worse, dad just died, then your landing is going to be very rough.  It will come with great risk of injury to family members, the family unit, and the longevity of the farm business.

So if you don’t want your farm business to crash and burn or family members to get badly injured in the process, give yourself a longer runway so it can be a smoother landing.  Your kids will thank you and your farm has a much greater chance of being here for another generation.  Start having those difficult family conversations now before it’s too late.   

Wesley Tucker is a Farm & Ranch Transition Specialist with the University of Missouri Extension and a cattle producer in the Ozarks.  He has 23 years of experience assisting agricultural producers throughout the U.S.  As a transition specialist, his passion is training and assisting families through complicated family dynamics so the farm or ranch can be a thriving business for future generations and the family can remain a family.


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