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Get farm succession conversation started

Daily succession planning discussions will be held in the Hospitality Tent.

Curt Arens, Editor, Nebraska Farmer

August 27, 2021

3 Min Read
Nebraska Extension educator, Allan Vyhnalek, during a presentation at HHD's
NAVIGATE PLANNING: Nebraska Extension educator Allan Vyhnalek will talk about how to navigate the difficult and challenging process or farm transition planning at daily workshops on the Hospitality Tent stage at HHD. Curt Arens

There is a saying that farmers never “retire,” they just “tire.” Many farmers and ranchers work late into their lives, and retiring or handing on the operation they’ve built up over the years isn’t something they want to think about.

That is the reason that farm succession planning is so important. Putting off such planning allows uncertainty if something sudden occurs.

“More often than not, planning is deferred until some critical point,” says Allan Vyhnalek, Nebraska Extension educator and farm transition specialist. “If there’s a sudden death, then your back is against the wall, and you could make bad decisions because of stress. It’s important to make sure we think about this while everything is going well; instead of during a crisis.”

Tough talk yields results

Vyhnalek will be covering the topic of farm succession planning during daily sessions at 11 a.m. on the Hospitality Tent stage at Husker Harvest Days, Sept. 14-16, in Grand Island, Neb.

“I used to chide farmers and ranchers to think about planning for retirement,” Vyhnalek says. “I don’t think any farmer or rancher ever plans to retire, so I’m not going to talk about that anymore. However, I will tell you that unfortunately, you don’t get to avoid the pine box. Everybody goes there in the end. I want you to think about what’s going to happen to your assets when you’re gone. You can’t take them with you,” he notes. “I’ve never seen any equipment or money in a casket with the deceased.”

Through hundreds of workshops, webinars, and seminars over the years, Vyhnalek has listened to many farm family stories and heard many different circumstances of transitions. He knows that having those conversations with family members can be quite difficult.

Don’t put off a succession plan

At a farm transition workshop at HHD a few years ago, Vyhnalek noted that farming parents often make two big mistakes when it comes to succession planning. “The parents will decide to do nothing, and they assume that the kids will get along OK during the transition,” he said. “The second error commonly made is when parents make the assumption that their kids will want to keep the farm in the family.”

While 90% of farm transitions are successful, there are horror stories when families can’t get along during that transition period.

Vyhnalek noted an Iowa study of farmers that found 75% of respondents did not plan to retire or even semi-retire. Only 23% that were surveyed actually planned for full retirement.

But life throws a few curves, Vyhnalek said. “If you put off estate planning until a critical life event, like death or illness, you aren’t necessarily thinking the best at that time.” He suggested developing a plan in segments or phases over a period of time. “This helps you make better decisions along the way.”

You can learn more details about how to go about this difficult process by attending Vyhnalek’s sessions each day at 11 a.m. at HHD on the Hospitality Tent stage.


About the Author(s)

Curt Arens

Editor, Nebraska Farmer

Curt Arens began writing about Nebraska’s farm families when he was in high school. Before joining Farm Progress as a field editor in April 2010, he had worked as a freelance farm writer for 27 years, first for newspapers and then for farm magazines, including Nebraska Farmer.

His real full-time career, however, during that same period was farming his family’s fourth generation land in northeast Nebraska. He also operated his Christmas tree farm and grew black oil sunflowers for wild birdseed. Curt continues to raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa and runs a cow-calf herd.

Curt and his wife Donna have four children, Lauren, Taylor, Zachary and Benjamin. They are active in their church and St. Rose School in Crofton, where Donna teaches and their children attend classes.

Previously, the 1986 University of Nebraska animal science graduate wrote a weekly rural life column, developed a farm radio program and wrote books about farm direct marketing and farmers markets. He received media honors from the Nebraska Forest Service, Center for Rural Affairs and Northeast Nebraska Experimental Farm Association.

He wrote about the spiritual side of farming in his 2008 book, “Down to Earth: Celebrating a Blessed Life on the Land,” garnering a Catholic Press Association award.

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