What happens when a farmer or rancher is retiring from the farm, yet they don’t have family heirs ready to take over?
Such was the case when Kendal Grecian, 73, began transitioning to his Kansas farm in 36-year-old Evan Lesser in 2019.
“My wife Barb and I worked for 45 years putting all of this together, and it was an opportunity for anyone who wanted to be in production agriculture who really didn’t have an opportunity. I didn’t want to see it just dispersed at a farm sale, “said Grecian, who sold his cattle, and continues to sell his equipment to Lesser.
After almost nine years working together, they learned a lot in the transition process.
A new program at Kansas State University is looking to help by linking a retiring farmer or rancher with an eager, incoming one.
Transitioning to retirement is a big deal for anyone, and for those in agriculture their business is often their home as well. There are several reasons why people are planning to transition off, said Ashlee Westerhold, director of the K-State Extension’s Office of Farm and Ranch Transition.
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“One big hurdle that a lot of families deal with is lack of communication, and there’s a lot of emotion when talking about this topic and succession planning,” she said. “Business owners feel this is ‘their baby,’ their investment, and it’s very hard for them to not think about owning it one day, which can cause a lack of planning.”
Westerhold was hired to lead a new office at K-State in March with help from a grant from the US Department of Agriculture’s Beginning Farmer / Rancher Development Program.
The grant’s objective is to create a land link for farmers and ranchers who don’t want to come back to the farm, connect them with anyone interested in farming a lease agreement or arranging a “lease-to-own” plan. General Chat Chat Lounge
Having already received much interest, paper applications are available for those who want to attract, and work is underway on a web-based form. The Land Link application fee is $ 100.
The program’s second objective is to offer one-on-one facilitation to help people through the transition process. Retiring generations or younger ones can reach out to the K-State Office of Farm and Ranch Transition and meet each other to start a plan.
The land link is almost like having a matchmaker. In going through applications, they are matching a beginning farmer with a retiring one to be sure they share the same values and expectations, Westerhold said. Her team acts as facilitators and she works behind the scenes to get the best fit.
“I love working with farm and ranch families and seeing their legacies live past the days when they were not farming or ranching anymore,” she said. “When people have a plan, they have a sigh of relief that they don’t have to worry about.”
Westerhold’s goal is to help people before they wait too long for the inevitable to happen.
The third objective of the program is to provide educational programs about record-keeping.
Lesser lives on the farm property northwest of Hays, Kansas and handles the farm, farm management and cattle. Grecian and other landlords own part of the land.
While Grecian splits his time between Manhattan, Kansas and visiting his children and grandchildren, he also occasionally enjoys doing some general farm maintenance at the Palco farm.
Both men say they wish they had a third party like the Office of the Farm and Ranch Transition back when they started their transition.
“If you’re a young guy coming into an operation, you need to understand you’re picking up their life’s work,” Lesser said. “A guy who built a farm doesn’t just want to go and sell it. Most of the time, they want to see it continue thriving and being managed in a way that they are happy with and match up with their philosophy. “
Sometimes there are frustrations. Lesser reminded himself to slow down and allow time for things to happen. That’s where the K-State program helps transition from a generation that’s much different.
“Right or wrong, there are a lot of stereotypes about the 30-something generation, and you need to prove yourself,” Lesser said. “You have the work ethic or whatever else these guys are looking for.”
The younger generation learns it’s not just a day job, and you just don’t show up when you feel like it, he added. His fiancé, Codi, works with him on the farm.
Lesser is now on the advisory board of the Office of the Farm and Ranch Transition.
Earning on the farm, took sweat, patience and determination. Growing up in Albany, New York, both of Lesser’s parents were veterinarians who had some cows but cloudy horses. Lesser always wanted to farm. So, when a family friend in southeastern Kansas offered him summer jobs on his farm and stocker operation on two summers, he came to work. He enjoyed Kansas and graduated from Kansas State University in 2010 with a degree in animal science.
Later, Lesser learned about Grecian’s interest in retiring from the farm to a mutual family friend. Now, his time is split between cow-calves, a few stockers, and farming wheat, milo and feed for the cows. He also has a seed wheat business where he sells, cleans and treats seed wheat.
Putting an agreement in writing, is recommended by both farmers, ag economists and the transition office.
“We have several different written agreements and yes, everything should be written down,” Lesser said.
“I believe once the terms are agreed upon, it should be under contract,” Westerhold added.
Her office will help the partners tackle the hard questions in one-on-one meetings.
For information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org, 785-532-4526 or visit https://www.agkansitions.org.
Nebraska has a program called Nebraska Land Link, available at https://cap.unl.edu/landlink and https://nextgen.nebraska.gov/.
Reporter Amy Hadachek is a two-time Emmy Award-winning meteorologist and a storm chaser who earned her approval of the NWA and AMS Broadcast Meteorology Seals. She and her husband live on a diversified farm in Kansas. Reach her at email@example.com.
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