Building Your Legacy: 3 Steps to Bring the Farm Forward For the Next Generation

    February 22, 2022

    Most people might find it surprising to learn that 98 percent of farms in the United States are family-owned in some capacity, according to the USDA’s Economic Resource Service. What is not surprising, however, is the fact that generational transfers of family farm responsibilities and ownership require careful planning and training in the host of tasks required to run a farm. “The older generation has the institutional knowledge and oftentimes holds the wallet,” says Lauren Riensche, a 6th generation Iowa farmer and Indigo team member, “while the younger generation has the energy and openness to try new technology, as well as the time to see if risks pay off.” Here are three steps to begin planning for a smooth transition.

    1. Incorporate the younger generation.

    The key for multi-generational success, Riensche says, “is matching talent to task.” Modern farming requires farmers to wear many hats, from accountant, to technology specialist, to environmental policy manager. A farmer must understand the effects of weather, soil conditions, proper equipment, and maintenance procedures. At the same time, he or she also needs to understand the financing of farm operations, including crop marketing, production restraints, commodities markets, risk management, land values, and more. It may seem like a long list, but a proficient and productive farm must operate well in all of the above areas. Mentoring the younger generation into these roles and responsibilities with enough time to learn the ropes will ensure a smoother transition. 

    2. Let the younger generation bring new thinking into their roles.

    This aspect of raising the next generation of farmers is not that much different from any other family business. As in most businesses, a clash of egos or unwillingness to build confidence alongside capability can dismantle generations of hard work. “The older generations on the farm bring valuable institutional knowledge and wisdom, and the younger generations bring energy and an often innate understanding of the latest advancements in the industry,” said Riensche, “To silo or silence these learnings would be to the detriment of the overall operation.” While many farmers in the U.S. are reported to work well beyond the average U.S. retirement age of 65, the baby boomer generation of farmers is now reaching their 70s and must approach and engage the future of their operations with intentionality. This also means allowing room for new thinking and new ideas.

    3. Align on an operational plan that focuses on building a long-term legacy.

    One way to make sure you are not just involving future generations, but setting them up for success, is finding ways to ensure the land is productive for decades to come. “No one wants to kill the goose that laid the golden egg,” says Riensche. “Savvy farmers appreciate that advancements in ag science and tech allow them to implement practices that lead to the long-term viability of the acres they farm.” With Indigo’s carbon farming programs, farmers can build their soil health and their legacy, leaving the farm in better condition for the next generation.

    Indigo Agronomist Tom Lawler says you can improve soil health long-term by putting carbon back into the ground via carbon farming. “You get a lot more nutrients cycling, a lot more water filtration, a lot more life below ground”, says Lawler. Growers can also become more profitable by reducing tillage, altering planting techniques, and generating carbon credits. 

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    Carbon by Indigo growers say building soil health is about ensuring that each generation is building on the last. “Our ancestors did the best job they know how,” says farmer Ben Butcher, “and I want my next generation to say I was doing the best way I know how.”

    *Individual agronomic and financial outcomes will vary by operation. Independently consider all of the potential risks and benefits before adopting any agronomic practices. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.


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