For many families working to transfer a farming operation from one generation to the next, it’s not the legal, financial and technical issues that prove most challenging.

As many families have learned from experience — often bitter experience — the biggest challenge often involves ensuring this transition occurs on the basis of open communication and trusting relationships among family members.

Indeed, effective relationship building and overcoming barriers to effective communication often prove to be the critical measure of success in the course of transferring a farming operation from one generation to the next, according to Paul Brown, associate director of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

“As it happens, professional help, whether this turns out to be legal, financial or technical assistance, often comes together pretty well,” says Brown who grew up on a family farm in Iowa. “However, it is the human relationships and levels of communication among family members that often prove critical to success.”

“Individual family members come into this muti-generational dialogue with different expectations and goals, but as family members they must develop a common vision of how these goals are going to be met.”

With interest in farm succession planning on the steady rise, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System will hold a series of seminars in February to provide farm families with tools to better ensure these operations are passed as successfully and seamlessly as possible from one generation to the next.

Workshop schedule

Workshops are scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 6, at the Wiregrass Research and Extension Center in Headland; Monday, Feb. 17 at the Tennessee Valley Research and Extension Center in Belle Mina; and Thursday, Feb. 27 at the Sand Mountain Research and Extension Center in Crossville.

Anyone interested in learning about the critical factors for success associated with transferring a farming operation across generations is encouraged to attend, according to Brown.

The workshops will help families assess the feasibility of two-generation farming operations and how to develop the communication and human relationship skills essential for success.  Families will also be advised about the most effective ways to transfer ownership and management responsibilities and to divide business income.

The training will also identify the factors most essential for securing a business arrangement that serves both generations.

“What we want to accomplish through these workshops is to give families an overview of the farm business transfer process — the key factors they need to discuss as a family before they proceed with planning,” Brown says.

The workshops will explore a four-stage transfer process whereby ownership, management and income are transferred from one generation to the next using a series of business arrangements.

These workshops will begin at 5:15 p.m. with registration, followed by dinner.

In addition to Paul Brown, other speakers will include Francesca Adler-Baeder, Alabama Extension specialist and professor in the Department of Human and Family Studies at Auburn University, and Robert Tufts, an attorney, Alabama Extension specialist and professor in the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences.

The capstone of each workshop will be a discussion about planning assistance, further educational topics and future programming.

“Succession planning is a multi-year process as the torch is passed from one generation to the next,” Brown says. “So, it’s important we get feedback about additional help people will need, either as individuals or as members of a multiple-family operation.”

Pre-registration is required one week before each scheduled program so that meal arrangements can be made and materials prepared. 

For more information, contact Nan Chambliss of the Alabama Extension Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Programs at (334) 844-4450.