How to Talk to Your Family About Farm Succession Planning

Mar 4, 2024 2 min read

We hear it all the time.

“It was my grandmother’s farm.”

“The farm’s been in the family for 125 years.”

“Ever since I was a kid, I’ve wanted to farm with my dad.”

Chances are, if you grew up on a farm, it’s a place that holds special meaning for you, and you’d hate to see it sold off piece-by-piece. And yet, this is exactly the fate of many of today’s family farms.

How can you prevent this from happening to you and your family? The key is to adopt a strong business continuity plan (or succession plan)

A foolproof farm succession plan needs input from every member of the family, even those who aren’t going to stay actively involved with the farm. It requires current and future farming generations to discuss everything from the business to retirement and estate plans.

So, how do you talk to your family about farm succession? It’s not always an easy conversation to have, which is why we’ve compiled these tips for broaching this sensitive subject.

Get an Early Start

It may feel uncomfortable to talk about family farm succession planning when a parent is running the family farm or ranch and has no plans to retire anytime soon. But experts recommend starting the planning process three to five years before the anticipated retirement date. In addition, you should have an estate plan in place in case the unexpected happens. 

Understand Each Individual’s Point of View

As you begin to discuss your farm continuity plan, take into account the generational, situational and personal differences of everyone in the family. You can’t talk about farm succession without touching on mortality, which can be difficult. 

Consider everyone’s point of view and emotional stake in the investment. You may find that some family members approach this topic stoically, while, for others, it brings emotions to the surface. Give everyone a chance to share their thoughts and process the feelings that can come with conversations about farm transition planning.

Set Aside a Specific Time to Talk About Succession Planning

Be mindful about the best time to have the conversation. Avoid family gatherings like birthdays or holidays where your discussion could weigh down what should be a celebration. And steer clear of the busiest times of year on the farm, such as harvest.

Instead, think about setting up a family “shareholder’s meeting” where everyone can come prepared to talk about business continuation. Find a date that works well for everyone and be sure that everyone understands the purpose of the meeting and has time to gather their thoughts and prepare their concerns ahead of time. 

Rely on a Third Party to Lead the Discussion

As your family plans the business continuation discussion, including a neutral third party can be helpful. This person can take a sensitive approach to asking questions about retirement and estate preservation without personal bias. They can help you navigate decisions and address emotional dynamics within the family.

Be Patient with the Process

Above all, don't get frustrated if an initial conversation with the family doesn’t resolve everything. Succession planning isn’t a one-and-done event — it’s a process. Take your time and do it right so everyone is satisfied with the outcome. A complete farm succession plan can often take six months to a year to finish.

More than two-thirds of family businesses don’t survive the jump from the first generation to the second, and only 10 percent make it to the third generation. Putting together a solid succession plan that everyone can embrace is crucial to keeping your farm or ranch in the family. 

Turn to Your Farm Bureau Agent for Support

Begin your family’s succession planning conversation today. Your local Farm Bureau agent can help you find the best way to transfer a family farm, serve as a neutral third party and be an excellent resource to add to your continuity planning team.

Want to learn more?

Contact a local FBFS agent or advisor for answers personalized to you.