John Ihlenfeld knows a thing or two about transitioning a business. Ihlenfeld, who farms near Owatonna, Minn., has been studying up on transitioning his farm and a few businesses. He gets the technical aspect of the process.
So that’s why when he attended the Transitioning Your Farm: The Positives of Passing it On workshop with Jolene Brown Dec. 17 at South Central College in North Mankato, Minn., he came away with a different understanding of transitioning his farm.
“It’s interesting to have the dynamics side of things that Jolene brought — how to work with other people,” Ihlenfeld said.
Ihlenfeld said dealing with family dynamics is a big part of running a farm.
“She went over a lot of stuff but a lot of the stories you can relate to your own personal family, and every family has its ups and downs,” he said.
The four workshops brought in nearly 400 attendees, or in other words, a lot of Minnesota farm families. Brown said the turnout for the workshops was “pretty darn amazing.”
“What I know is that when nobody wants to leave when you’re done because they’re busy figuring out what exactly they’re gonna do, it’s been a good workshop,” she said. “And then they also understood that they are not going through this process alone. I think one thing I saw, especially in these workshops, was the interaction among them, the interaction during breaks and then the interaction with the key advisory panel. It’s been great.”
Minnesota Soybean Growers Association Director Bruce Schmoll attended the event with his wife Terri. Schmoll, who has two sons, said the workshop was eye opening.
“I think one of the key points I took away is the fact that a lot of us nearing retirement age, when you look at the average age of farmers and landowners, you’re talking 55 to 57, many of us are running out of time to actually put together a plan for farm transition,” he said.
Schmoll was impressed with the amount of information that was covered in the workshop.
“I think today, with all the different areas we went over, it just drove home the point of how important it is to take a look at that and actually start with a plan, get the ball rolling and get something done.”
Attendees were hit with some staggering numbers before Brown was introduced.
- 55 percent of adults in the U.S. do not have a will
- A recent succession and estate plan survey conducted by Farm Journal found almost 80 percent of respondents plan to transfer control of their operation to the next generation but less than 20 percent were fully confident of their plan
- A recent study of a FARMLASTS Project found that 88 percent of farmers and farmland owners neither had an exit plan nor knew how to develop one.
- The same study found that only 30 percent of farmers planning to retire had identified a successor
Brown said one story that really sums up the fears of transition came during the North Mankato session. One individual had written down a comment to the panelists that said, “I’m afraid I’ve done something wrong.”
“I said to the attorney ‘my take on that is only if it is irrevocable,’” Brown said. “Everything else can change. So I did talk with that individual one-to-one. It is not irrevocable. And I said, ‘but you’re right now quite emotional about this so let’s get with this advisory and their going to listen to your story.’”
Schmoll said he really enjoyed the honesty Brown brought to the table. She was blunt when she needed to be, and she drew on humor, as well.
“When you share the real-life stories and you put in the humor, then you hit them over the head, you’ve got them,” Brown said. “And they deserve to be gotten because these are wonderful people who built the legacy of the land. And so yes, I hear that we’ve got to take them wherever they are at to wherever they need to go.
The Minnesota Soybean Growers Association hosted the Transitioning Your Farm: The Positives of Passing it On workshops. Gislason & Hunter, Northwestern Mutual, Eide Bailly, Fredrickson & Bryon, P.A., Bremer Bank, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council and the soybean checkoff sponsored the workshops.