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When Promises Aren't Enough

When Promises Aren't Enough
"Someday this will all be yours," isn't good enough when it comes to passing on a modern farm.

By Kindra Gordon

It's a common quip among farm families. A parent tells a son or daughter, "Someday this will all be yours." The presumption is that the younger generation will inherit the family business.

But Gary Sipiorski cautions against making presumptions, saying, "Verbal promises don't mean much if things change."

Divorce, death, or remarrying can change a situation quickly.

"If it is not in writing, it may not happen the way you've been told," he says.

Gary Sipiorski says there are too many zeros behind the value of a modern farm not to have a succession plan in writing.

Sipiorski, Madison, Wis., has worked with farm families for four decades, including 17 years in banking and numerous roles on ag-related advisory councils. Currently he works with the nutrition firm Vita Plus, is a meeting advisor for the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin, and has given many presentations across the U.S. and internationally. He spoke at the South Dakota Governor's Ag Development Summit in 2012.

Advice for both
To the older generation, he says: "Get your homework done." Along with this, he emphasizes the need to start giving the next generation meaningful responsibilities in the operation. Sipiorski says, "This is called on the job training."

He acknowledges that mistakes are part of the learning process for the younger generation, and they will gain confidence and knowledge as they see their decisions turning out successfully.

To the younger generation, he says: "Be patient."

Sipiorski suggests a step-by-step approach as a family farm is transitioned to the next generation. Ideally, he says the process should be started when the older generation is about 55.

"It may seem like you just got the operation paid for, but you are not going to be able to do this forever," he says. "I'm not telling you to give it away, but start the process and have things in order because things happen. Today there are too many zeros behind the numbers not to have a succession plan in place."

Gordon is a Whitewood, S.D., freelance writer

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