Polanin offers tips on transitioning to next generation
NEW BRUNSWICK — How does a farming business continue through a challenging episode for those left behind when the head farmer dies?
Who takes the lead when an older farmer decides to scale back and semi-retire? When one son works on the farm and the other son doesn’t work on the farm, how inclusive are you in estate matters with the other son?
Many of these questions were addressed by Nick Polanin, the director of Somerset County’s Agricultural Extension Service, in a talk about farm succession planning he delivered Jan. 14 at the Annie’s Project series of classes, a six-week program designed for women farmers.
Called “Later Life Farming,” he cautioned “it almost sounds like you’re getting into farming later in life, but really what it centers around is transitioning your agribusiness to the next generation.”
Who is in charge after the death of the main farm operator can be challenging, to say the least, especially if he or she has left no will. At the outset of the presentation, Polanin’s said all of his points are posted online at www.laterlifefarming.rutgers.edu.
“These resources are straight from a conference we held about these matters, along with videos and documents that ask the questions: Do farmers actually really retire, and how do they retire, and from what? And does the family actually plan for the succession, or does the farmer keep going until he gets injured or passes away on the job? Then, what’s the future of the farm?”
Older farmers need to ask themselves: are you ready to retire? If you’re not ready to retire, what else is out there if you’re not farming?
Fortunately, in places like New Jersey, options abound, even for older workers, with part-time, non-farm employment. On the website Polanin was involved in setting up collaborating with Purdue University, other considerations are raised.
“There’s an affiliated module about wills, estates and trusts as well as successional plans and generational plans,” he said.
The key, he stressed, “is this something you as a farm family are going to be ready for from the get-go, or is it going to happen because the state has to step in or some other entity has to get involved?”
Other topics outlined on the website include how-to videos on how to start discussions with elderly relatives about a farm succession plan.
“How you start the conversation and the timing of that conversation can shut down the conversation right from the get-go,” he pointed out, noting these types of sensitive, sometimes difficult conversations need to be approached with tact and caution.
Polanin told the class just because you’re the next farmer-in-chief, that doesn’t mean you have to know everything about estate planning, estate taxes in New Jersey and wills.
“Surrounding yourself with a professional team, getting those lawyers, financial accountants and bookkeepers involved is a good thing, so you don’t have to go through this on your own,” he said.
In response to a question about demographics in mostly well-to-do Somerset County, Polanin said his day-to-day reality tends to deal more with the other side of later life farming, where people who have made money in some other industry and then buy a preserved farm in the county.
“They call us up and say, ‘What’s the best thing to grow in Somerset County?’ And I say, ‘You just bought a 100 acre or 30-acre parcel, now you’re asking?’ You need to go this Annie’s Project class and get a business plan before you do that.”
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