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Serving: WI
dairy cows in lot
OPEN COMMUNICATION: Work toward establishing a strong relationship with your son that allows all parties to openly communicate with each other to determine the future of your farm business.

Deciding future of farm must involve son

Agrivision: It may be best for him to work off the farm for a few years before returning to the family farm.

Our youngest son is having trouble finding a job. He graduated from college in May with a bachelor’s degree in crops and soils science, but he has not found a job. We are wondering if he should take just any job — like working at a cheese factory or being a custom sprayer at the co-op that doesn’t require a college degree — or if he should come home and farm with us? My wife and I milk 250 cows and farm 700 acres in central Wisconsin. We have two full-time employees and two part-time employees. We would have to lay off someone.

He has talked about farming with us, but we figured that would be in a few years when we are closer to retirement age. We are in our mid-50s and plan to work another 10 years. My wife thinks she could get a job in town and it would all work out if our son wanted to come home and farm with us now. What are your thoughts?

Doug Hodorff: Sometimes our expectations are too high. Your son has to make a decision on employment. Your son has to take a job that is available and become part of the workforce. He will have to show off his skills to employers and move into his desired profession. Your son needs some off-farm experience before you can consider bringing him into your business. Experience in the business community will be valuable for your son.

Sam Miller: I suggest your son continue to seek a job off the farm. The experience he will gain will benefit him and you if he comes back to the farm in a few years. His college placement office should have resources to assist him in finding a job. He can also share his resume and visit potential agribusiness firms in the area where he would like to live. Good luck to your son with his job search. 

Katie Wantoch: I would encourage you to have some serious conversations with your son before making any decisions. What are your three-, five- and 10-year personal and farm business plans? Does your son have similar plans, or are they different? Did your son work on the farm prior to and during college? Has he been a laborer or has he been involved with management decisions? If your family communicates well, you may be able to answer these questions easily. If not, you might want to ask an Extension educator, teacher or neighbor to assist you in facilitating this discussion. Communication where people work together to solve problems or to plan for the future is important.

The process of admitting to worries and fears is sometimes difficult, but when all parties have open and clear access to information and can assist each other in finding solutions, problems become easier to solve when they arise. Work toward establishing a strong relationship with your son that allows all parties to openly communicate with each other to determine the future of your farm business.

Give nephew trial run?

I’m 64 years old and getting ready to retire from farming. I own 225 acres and milk 60 cows. I have an auction scheduled in November to sell the cows. I’ll sell the machinery after the first of the year. I was planning to rent my land to the neighbor, but my nephew, who has helped me on weekends over the years, asked if he could buy the cows, lease the land and the buildings, and hire me to do the fieldwork. He is 37 years old, is a hard worker and has saved $75,000. I’m wondering if this is something we should try for three years, or if I should stick to my original plan. Please advise.

Doug Hodorff: You are at a crossroads. I have no idea of the talents of your nephew. It would concern me on your nephew’s view of your farming operation. Having helped on the weekends only gives him experience of what happens on the weekends. As you well know, farming is more than weekend work. You will have to decide if you can commit time and resources to helping your nephew. Also consider what your life will look like if you invest resources and things don’t work out. It’s risky, but it would be very satisfying to see it succeed.

Sam Miller: It sounds like your nephew has given this some thought and has an overview of an idea. Has he prepared a business plan and shared it with you? Your retirement would be in the hands of your nephew, so you would want a high probability he will succeed. Review the plan with a qualified dairy business consultant for feasibility. If it makes sense, negotiate terms of the sale of assets, lease of the property and feed contracts, and visit with an attorney to put it in writing. Your nephew should look into a Beginning Farmer Loan from the Farm Service Agency so he builds a credit history and you reduce your risk by being paid for the asset sales. If the plan doesn’t meet your standards, you can proceed with your original retirement plan. Good luck evaluating your options.

Katie Wantoch: I am cautiously optimistic that this arrangement may work for you. It really depends on planning and budgeting, both for you and your nephew. Take time to evaluate what income you might need to pay for expenses that may remain after you transition a majority of the farming practices to your nephew. What will he be able to pay you for fieldwork, and will this be enough for your family living needs? Be sure to visit for Extension resources to help you learn about lease arrangements. The website contains farm building and land lease samples that you and your nephew can discuss to ensure you are both on the same page. I would suggest a one-year lease and reevaluate the arrangement each year. Thank you for being open to finding ways of transitioning your farm business to the next generation!

Agrivision panel: Doug Hodorff, Fond du Lac County, Wis., dairy farmer; Sam Miller, managing director, group head of agricultural banking, BMO Harris Bank; and Katie Wantoch, Dunn County, Wis., Extension agricultural agent specializing in economic development. If you have questions you would like the panel to answer, send them to Wisconsin Agriculturist, P.O. Box 236, Brandon, WI 53919; or email

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