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December 7, 2016 - Clayton Rye
Transition is a popular word these days now that the election is done and the power of those in charge moves from one set of hands to the next. In a few months the word transition will fade from the news as if it is an accomplished mission. However, for miles and miles in every direction all around me, there are many transitions taking place quietly, and with no news coverage, as control of farms passes from an aging operator to the new operators who can be anyone from a family member to a neighbor or even an investor. When measured in terms of dollars, it is a very impressive number. But it isn’t just the money that is important. For many farms it is the importance of continuing the family operation through a maze of tax consequences, fairness to other family members whether they are actively involved in the farm or not, plus fairness to the current owners. Then there is the financing and the estate plan. Just like fingerprints, no two farms or farm families are alike. It is not one size fits all when trying to accomplish the transition of a farm. We are going through this now for our farm and so far, so good. We haven’t dotted every “i” or crossed every “t” but we have a good start. From my viewpoint as the land owner, I am watching my son take responsibility for day-to-day and year-to-year decisions. His approach to decision making is much like mine so when he tells me of his plans I agree with how he sees things. I trust his judgement. It is different from my dad and uncle who did little in the transition planning except for their wills which spelled out how things were to be divided. I wasn’t completely sure where I stood until the wills were read. I have no complaints as it was their property to do with as they pleased. I also had faith in their sense of fairness. Almost 20 years later, I believe things worked out well. Best of all, all of our family members are on good speaking terms with each other. Family gatherings are happy events with everyone invited. Family squabbles are what make lawyers rich and in the end, it seems like everyone else loses. Now, I get to give my viewpoint as a father who is watching his son not only be a wise and able farmer, but also as a responsible man to his family, friends and community. I have no reason to believe that when I am gone that those things will change. The future of our family farm and the family name looks good. I seem to be in reasonably good health so I can keep watching from a greater distance as time goes by as I remove myself from more and more decisions. I heard once long ago that a successful manager works himself out of a job. At the time I thought it was a curious statement that didn’t make sense. It took a few years, but I learned to see the truth in that statement as I watched businesses change hands with varying degrees of success and an occasional failure. I have to confess that I do like still having some involvement in how things go around here. I haven’t been completely put out to pasture. At the same time, knowing that the place can get along without me is very comforting. I had my turn and enjoyed it. Let the next generation have its chance.
Rye is a Farm News staff writer and farmer from Hanlontown. Reach him by e-mail at email@example.com.
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