In 1992, after four years of college, I came to the realization that our family farm was not big enough to support five families full time. I had always wanted to go home and farm, but my father, my uncle and my two cousins all had a head start on me.
This is how Farm Financial Strategies, Inc. started. I needed to get an off-farm job and happened to meet the right person, at the right place, at the right time. He had the pioneering idea to frame a process for farm transition planning. At age 22, it sounded like a great idea to me.
Our initial processes focused on estate tax planning. Back then, the federal estate tax-free exemption amount was $600,000 per person. Farm families needed an advanced plan to use two exemption credits for a married couple to protect $1.2 million in assets.
Today the exemption equivalent is $11.58 million per person. With portability, a married couple today really does not need a proactive plan to capture two exemption equivalents ($23.16 million per married couple).
Times have certainly changed. Today the focus for most families is now farm transition planning, and particularly the succession of land ownership due to the appreciation in land values and the inability for the land to cash flow without subsidization.
In 1995, I created a software process to gather information, present planning options and create an outline of each families’ planning process and their goals for the future.
Today, this computer software has 68 different pages of options for strategies and concepts ranging from basic estate ownership and tax planning to farm transition pages to help families determine what is “fair” for their children.
While writing last month on the new IRA-required minimum distribution rules, I realized that the software once again needed updating.
I have labeled each updated version with the year since inception and the version number. I had updated the software for 26 years and now was at version 26.2.
This number may not mean much to most, but to me, the significance of 26.2 is more than just a number. It represents the number of miles in a marathon.
In 2008, my wife encouraged me to run the New York City Marathon with her.
Despite my deficiencies, we set up a plan and trained together — not because I necessarily wanted to, but because I love her and it was a part of our “marathon” that we live each day together.
She expressed two things that greatly influenced my preparation.
1. The first 20 miles and the last 6.2 miles of a marathon are two separate but psychologically equal races.
2. If I could make the first half of the race (20 miles), then I could “gut out” the second half (the final 6.2 miles).
Three separate times I had run 20 miles in training. I was confident that I could make it 20 miles and “gut” the last 6.2 to the finish.
The start of the run went well. However, I did not anticipate the extra energy we would exert to stay warm on a chilly November morning before the marathon even started.
I “hit the wall” at mile 14 and had to use up my 6 mile “gut” just to get to mile 20. Not knowing what else to do, I focused only on putting one foot in front of the other.
With 1 mile remaining, I recognized I did not need much in the tank because I did not have very far to go. Those 26.2 miles are a long way, but we made it together with training, patience and the right mindset.
No easy fix
Transition planning for a farm can be like running a marathon. We start out not knowing what to expect but knowing that it will not be easy. There will be unexpected adversity that will change the course of even a well thought-out plan.
A phone call with a long-time client reminded me of this. Unexpected adversity surfaced on the call. He got quiet as he struggled for the words to tell me that his wife had been diagnosed with cancer.
Like unexpectedly “hitting the wall” in my marathon, when faced with a shock to the system, we focused only on putting one foot in front of the other.
Thankfully, they do not have worry about three important things. Their faith in God is strong, they have a comprehensive and well thought-out farm transition plan and they have each other.
Most everything in life of real value requires patience, training and the right mindset to acquire and maintain. If it were easy, everyone would be able to do it.
One example is production agriculture’s current struggle with cash flows, with an aging population of ownership and the ensuing transition that is about to occur.
Another is our world’s current struggle with COVID-19.
There will be sacrifice and pain. Despite best efforts, some will not finish. Leadership to identify and implement strategies will help you stay on track so when the finish is in sight, you can get there even though you may not have much left in the tank.
I am forever grateful to my wife for sticking with me through the marathon process (and in life). Winners get to the top and turn to see whom they have defeated, while leaders get to the top and turn to see who they can help get to the top with them.
After version 26.2, my sincere hope is that as you near the finish of your marathon, you will consider strategies to not only transfer your land to the next generation but also to replicate your wisdom and grace while transferring a way of life to the next generation of community leaders in production agriculture.
For 27 years, Steve Bohr has been a partner in the farm continuation firm of Farm Financial Strategies, Inc. For additional information on farm continuation issues or if you have a question please contact Steve via email at Bohr@FarmEstate.com or by phone at 1-800-375-4180.