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Views and opinions: Young farmers need a farm transition plan for protection

This past week I was told there were 50,000-plus FFA members in Indianapolis for their yearly convention. I found it a fitting time to write this article about younger farmers who are the next generation, and what happens when the older generation fails to put together a farm transition plan.

Without a transition plan, I believe there is a 90 percent chance the next generation goes to the NFL, which stands for Not Farming Long. (Yes, I coined this, and take credit for it.) Before I discuss this further, let’s look at a few things:

•First, no one ever keeps score in farming. What I mean is that when a son or daughter returns to the farm, no one keeps track of their hours, their input, their monetary contribution or so forth. As the years go by, no one is able to remember what all the young farmer contributed to the operation, especially the non-farm siblings.

Then, at distribution time, the dreaded “fair is equal” mentality of the older generation kicks in because no one can quantify the efforts of the farming child.

•The younger generation is often entirely dependent on the older generation as to assets. For example, if a child comes home from college and decides to work on the farm, such child won’t have two nickels to rub together.

Sadly, with the cost of land and farm assets, this may be the case for quite some time. Meaning, even years later if the farming child is not given some special provisions to purchase the land, equipment and the like, they are likely headed to the NFL.

•Rarely (like, once in a blue moon) do non-farm siblings really understand what all the farming child has contributed, put up with or done without. Sure, when corn was $6 per bushel all I heard was how rich the farming child was getting; now, with $3 corn, I don’t hear concern from non-farm siblings how bad the farm sibling is doing.

Farming children should consider keeping their siblings in the loop so as to keep expectations in line. This will help in the future when it comes time for the farming child to receive or buy the farm.

Now, what I am going to say next will be harsh. Good – I hope people take some of it to heart.

If you are a young farmer coming home from college, high school or otherwise, or coming into a family operation in some manner, I would question your sanity by not having some sort of written agreement in place. As a matter of fact, don’t start working or becoming involved with the farm without one.

Why? Well, I once had a client who was is in his sixties and was always promised the farm by his dad. He worked the farm for decades. Dad died and all the other non-farm siblings came in and had the farm sold.

I sat and watched a man in his sixties cry and tell me he worked on that farm his whole life, his siblings went and got good jobs and a retirement and now he did not even have the farm to make a living off or be his retirement.

If Dad would not put a succession plan in place, then the next best thing would have been if this farmer had entered into a written agreement with his dad to transition the farm. Remember, only about 75 percent of farmers have a succession plan.

If you are a young farmer, and having a succession plan established by parents or grandparents has been like pulling teeth, the next best thing is a transition agreement. This agreement, at minimum, spells out what the expectations are of the parties and how the parties can ensure the farm transfers and continues, how they compensate for efforts and so forth.

If you don’t have something in place, then you should be prepared to not be compensated for your efforts, and the farm sold. It really is that simple. I’ve seen the farming child(ren) get the short end of the stick so many times in my career, I have stopped counting.

In closing, John Fogerty wrote a famous song with the chorus of “someday never comes.” When it comes to estate, succession or transition plans, people like to say they will be put in place “someday;” however, like John sang, someday never comes.

Young farmers need to make sure make sure “someday” does indeed come.


These articles are for general informational purposes only and do not constitute an attorney-client relationship. John J. Schwarz, II, is a lifelong farmer in Northeast Indiana and has been an agricultural law attorney for 12 years. He can be reached at 260-351-4440,, or visit him at