There is more than one way to look at what is fair! That is a conclusion that a farmer made at the Farm Link and Transition Pilot Workshop held in Virginia two weeks ago when reflecting on the way that his great-grandfather had divided his farm. His great-grandfather had two children, one had worked the farm his entire life and the other had moved off the farm to pursue a career. However, the will divided the land equally between both children.
Good farmland succession/transition planning is often the determining factor as to whether or not a property remains a farm. Done well, it is usually a gradual process, with the transfer of labor and decision making occurring over time and, eventually, the transfer of assets. There can be many complications, including number of heirs, success of the farm business, retirement plans, and unexpected illness or death. Most farmers envision that their farms will continue after they pass on, but many do not plan for it.
The value of farmland in Maryland is a mixed blessing. Farmland is worth approximately 2.5 times the national average, creating a greater tax burden and pressure to develop.
Rather than simply a lecture format, the workshop began with a video dramatization of Bella Acres where three generations were living on a family farm. In the video, each family member described a very different perspective on the future of the farm. Then we heard from three farmers who told about their experiences with family farm succession/transition. Attendees got to ask questions.
One of the farmers noted that we are fortunate to live in a region with land preservation options. These can be used to help acquire land or divide the estate equitably, without dividing the farm.
Another nice feature of the the workshop is that it was co-sponsored by the Virginia Farm Bureau Young Farmers Committee and there were more than a dozen young farmers in the room. Before the end of the workshop, the young farmers got to explain their vision for farming, and farmers who were thinking of retirement had the chance to describe their vision for the future of their farm.
One of the farmers said something that stuck with me the most. He said that these are tough decisions and good communication is the key. He and his children meet periodically to talk about the future of the farm, and their role in it. My bet is their chances for a successful transition are very good.