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COLLEGE VS. FARMING: Your first obligation may be to step aside until your nephew and his parents resolve the issue of whether he goes to college. If all agree, you may want to pursue options for him to join you on the farm.

Family issues, farming make interesting bedfellows

Profit Planners: Tread lightly where relatives are involved in business decisions.

My nephew has helped me summers and weekends during high school. He graduates this year. His parents thought he would go to college, but he wants to farm with me. I don’t have sons or sons-in-law and have five years before retiring. How would my wife and I go about working him in here? Or should we step aside until my nephew, sister and brother-in-law work out the college question?

The Profit Planners panel includes David Erickson, farmer, Altona, Ill.; Mark Evans, Extension educator, Putnam County, Ind.; Steve Myers, farm manager, Busey Ag Resources, LeRoy, Ill.; and Chris Parker, cattle, forage and timber producer, Morgantown, Ind.

Erickson: I encourage you to work with your family to develop a plan that could accomplish the desired outcome for everyone. Maybe your nephew could attend college while working in your operation on weekends and summers until he completes his degree. This will give you time to develop a transition plan, if that is your desire. There may be the need to do some variance on the timeline to accommodate the best outcome for everyone.

Evans: Hot potato! On one hand, what a wonderful thought to allow a nephew to carry on your operation with a succession plan. On the other hand, things could get rough with your sister if it’s perceived you’re overly anxious with his involvement or pushing your nephew into farming.

Ultimately your nephew must decide what he wants to do. A four-year college degree isn’t for everyone. Statistically there’s huge value in some sort of post-high school education. If you work out an arrangement, you want to be sure your nephew succeeds. Is there a community college nearby? Online courses? Even an associate’s degree in accounting that complements agriculture would be beneficial.

To see if there can be success, look for a situation where he provides help during planting and harvest while also working on course work. He’ll find out if he truly likes to farm. If it doesn’t work out, he will still have postsecondary education to help find a better position elsewhere.

Myers: It would be prudent to have a conversation with your sister and brother-in-law prior to any serious discussions with your nephew. Who wouldn’t want to farm? But as you know, summers and weekends are a great deal different than full time. I typically would recommend he get further education, get employment in the field of agriculture and then, if he still wants to farm, bring those experiences back to your operation.

Parker: Personally and professionally, I think you should step aside while your nephew and his parents discuss the college question. However, in the meantime, you should prepare a plan for different scenarios of bringing your nephew into the farming operation. That could start with him as an employee and transitioning into a partnership, corporation or limited liability company with you and your wife after a given amount of time. There are numerous options, and advice from your attorney, accountant and a farm management firm could help you with these scenarios.

The plan should not only cover entering the farming business, but also options for exiting if it proves untenable for either side. We need young farmers, and one of the few ways for a young person to get started farming is in a situation like this. That’s an important factor in the discussion on both sides.

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