PRESTON, Minn. — Minnesota agriculture is entering a period of transition. Without proper planning, land may not be transferred in a way that keeps the farm operational.
Cue the Farm Transition and Estate Planning Workshop: "Create Your Farm Legacy," which was held in Preston on Jan. 29. Presenters at the six-hour workshop were Megan Roberts and Amber Roberts, both extension educators.
The workshops are a partnership between Minnesota State Colleges and Universities and University of Minnesota Extension. More than a dozen of the meetings were held across the state this year.
The workshop covered topics including family communications, goal setting, business structures, mechanisms for inheritance and transition, estate and gift taxes and retirement planning.
"It's really important, because in the next 20 years we're going to see the largest transfer of farmland that we've ever seen in this country," said Amber Roberts. "As that older, retiring generation decides to transition the farm, we're going to see a whole lot of farmland that suddenly has to go somewhere."
She said with proper planning on the front end, she said, landowners will be "more likely have a viable farm operation continue in the next generation."
That's why the attendance has been full at most of the workshops, she said.
"It's a massive issue," she said. "And it's hard to think about, because we're talking family and farm legacy, mortality and thinking about mom and dad potentially not being there."
Megan Roberts said the process of farm transition and estate planning includes a lot of elements, and the workshops are meant as an introduction to them.
The workshops have been held for the last 15 years, she said, and are updated each year to reflect changes in law, tax code or the interest of farmers.
A local attorney as well as a few ag lenders attended the Jan. 29 workshop.
"That's always wonderful because then we have more perspective in the room," said Megan Roberts.
Kaleb Storm, an ag banker in Winona, has a lot of farm customers who are working through farm transitions now.
"This is a good program to catch up on trusts and succession planning," said Storm. "A lot of farmers look to their bankers as people who should know the answers to this stuff, and as advocates to their operations."
He said it makes him a better lender to have an understanding of the many ways to pass land on to the next generations and the tax consequences of that.
Storm attended a workshop a couple years ago but came back this year for a "refresher."
Marvin Kuhn, a 55-year-old dairy farmer from Mabel, came to the workshop to prepare for a transition of his farm in the near future. The workshop was helpful, but "it's very complicated, and it's probably going to take several of these meetings to really understand it all."
Kuhn's children are now adults and none of them will be leaving their careers to come back to the farm and take it over.
"Due to the volatility in the dairy industry, there's not much to come back to," said Kuhn. So he and his wife need to explore options at transitioning the land, or for them to simply get out of the industry.
"We worked for 30-some years to get to where we're at, and we don't want to make one wrong decision that gives most of it away," he said. "This is business."
He said if one of his children were able to come back and take over the farm, that would be helpful.
"But they're all professionals at what they do," Kuhn said. "So I'm not going to ask them to come back, just so we can have an easy way out."