Successful succession planning means looking outside the box

Succession planning is a topic many farmer do not like, but it is a conversation worth having. According to one planning expert, the key is looking outside the box.

Dick Wittman of Wittman Consulting in north central Idaho says that the first step to proper succession planning is to reevaluate the definition of success.

Many farmers, he noted, provide a food life for their family and community, but get discouraged or even depressed if their children are not interested in returning to the family farm. However, that is only one of many options.

Wittman says that it may be a good idea to look at hiring a temporary operator, or wait until the grandchildren are older to see if they have an interest, or consider the possibility of bringing on a partner.

“What you don’t want to see is this narrow minded thinking that, ‘Alright, no one wants the business, nobody wants the farm, so I’m just going to sell it or put a conservation easement on it, or sell it to a developer and get out.’ Many of those farms, really have the opportunity to continue to grow food and provide a career for somebody else and... a lot of people are looking for a farm opportunity that needs a sponsor or someone to help the get into the business.”

Wittman says that regardless of commodity, farmers are very smart people, so they need to educate themselves about succession planning, and what options exists. That often starts with selecting the right advisory team.

“I stress the term team, there’s no one person who can help you do your succession planning, but you do need a quarter back that puts all of your local advisory team together and makes them work as a team and that’s often what’s missing in succession planning,” he adds.

When looking at establishing the right team, it is important to determine early on who is going to be the facilitator of the process.