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Farm Land Transfer Planning: Soft and Hard Issues

Provide for future generations in farmland beliefs by planning for the future with farmland transfer plans.

| August 2018

  • Farmer generations
    For farmers, a meaningful legacy typically is a rich mix of “things” and values — land, a home, equipment, relationships, farming practices, and beliefs about hard work, conservation, or innovation, for example.
    Photo by Getty/pixdeluxe
  • Book cover
    “The Future of Family Farms: Practical Farmers’ Legacy Letter Project” is a collection of letters, stories, and advice from the farmers of Iowa sharing what they know and have learned from their experiencing of farming in Iowa.
    Cover courtesy University of Iowa Press

  • Farmer generations
  • Book cover

The Future of Family Farms: Practical Farmers' Legacy Letter Project (University of Iowa Press, 2016) edited by Teresa Opheim shares stories, experiences, and advice from farmers in Iowa. Their successes and failures are highlighted to help the future generations of farmers towards successes and survival in a tough industry that is constantly evolving.

Farm Transfer Planning: The Soft Issues Are the Hard Issues

Legacy: something handed down or received from an ancestor or predecessor. A legacy can be money or property; it can be values such as tolerance or stewardship. For farmers, a meaningful legacy typically is a rich mix of “things” and values — land, a home, equipment, relationships, farming practices, and beliefs about hard work, conservation, or innovation, for example.

Farm succession or transfer planning is as much about values, beliefs, and relationships as it is about taxes, wills, and business entities. With the average age of U.S. farmers at fifty-eight, and five times as many farmers over sixty-five as under thirty-five years old, much more attention needs to be paid to farm entry and exit. Beginning farmers report that access to land is among their top challenges, while in one Iowa study of retiring farmers, two-thirds had no identified successor.

A prosperous and resilient food and farming system for our nation requires that a new generation of farmers — whether or not they come from farm backgrounds — be able to start and successfully grow farms and ranches. And if older farmers can’t easily exit from farming, their land can’t become available to entering farmers. And seniors’ holdings are significant.

About 10 percent of all farmland is expected to change hands within the next five years alone, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Of the 2.1 million principal farm operators — defined as the person responsible for the day-to- day operation of the farm or ranch — farmers over the age of sixty-five account for 33 percent, and they manage about one-third of all land in farms. They own nearly 625.5 million acres of land in farms, of which about 70 million acres are rented to others.

There are another 283.4 million acres rented for agriculture by landlords who are not farmers. Together, over 2.1 million landlords rent farmland. Their average age is 66.5 — older than the average farmer! This sector is comprised of retired farmers, farm widows and heirs, and other owners of agricultural property.

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