Exiting Farmers

This is a good place to start if you are thinking about retiring, partially retiring or packing up and moving to Greece!


Step 1 – Self Assessment

“Don’t be afraid to ask dumb questions. They’re more easily handled than dumb mistakes.” — William Wister Haines

…seems like good advice regarding the process of transitioning your farmland. Keep it in mind as you engage your financial planner, attorney or a farm transitions coach for help.

On this page there are a couple exercises that will help you be better prepared for a few eventual scenarios and potential pitfalls.

A :: Communication Styles

One thing to keep in mind is that you and the other decision makers in the family will have different communication styles — fill out the following worksheet and have other stakeholders do the same — keep in mind that you will need to acknowledge in this process that you and your family may have the same values, vision, mission and goals – but have very different ways of communicating them.

Communication style questionnaire

B :: Wants – Needs – Fears

When you sit down and start to explore what could happen to the family farm, it can sometimes be useful to put down on paper what it is exactly what you want to have happen. Don’t try to solve the “how” part of the plan at this point – just the “what.”

Wants, Needs, Fears

Step 2 :: Values – Vision – Goal

A :: Values

Most of us would say we value a few of the same things; hard work, family, loyalty. And so actually writing them down seems a little redundant – but we also have plenty of other values that are not always so easy to pin down but will help in making a decision on exactly “how” you structure your farm transition. Complete the following worksheet by circling just one word or phrase from each box and rate the significance of each choice from ++ extremely important, + somewhat important, o neutral, – less important,  - – unimportant.


Now look at those values you find the most important and try to incorporate them into a pretend Christmas letter from the future.

Yes, a Christmas letter from the future. You know… “Well, Dad and I went to visit my sister again this Summer in North Carolina – she has such a lovely place along a stream up in the Smokey Mountains…” But this time instead of ending the letter talking about how the combine broke in the middle of harvest last year — maybe you talk about who is now farming your place and how that transition went. Maybe you talk about having moved just a couple miles from your sister in North Carolina! Have each of the family members write their own letter and then read them together.

Christmas Letter Template

B :: Vision

What does the future look like?

The Christmas letter you just wrote could be a good beginning for your vision of the farm. The following handout will help you further tease out your vision for the farm.

C :: Goals

Measurable – Achievable – Realistic – Timely – Ethical – Changeable

Taking any one of the goals you have for the farm and applying on of the above “filters” will give you a better idea if your goals are executable and relevant. Also be mindful that you may have different goals for the farmland, farm business and your own personal life. the following worksheet can help you lay out some of these goals.


Step 3 – Strategies – Team

A :: Strategies and Tactics
Strategies are the plans and tactics are the tools we apply to making our goals a reality
How do we get to our goals?
What tools will we need to do to carry out our strategies?

B :: Team Building
Who is responsible for doing what?

When interviewing the following professionals you will want to interview them to determine if they will be a good fit for your individual situation. Keep in mind that you don’t have to like the same flavor of ice cream, but you should be comfortable with them.You will eventually have to have frank discussions about finances and end-of-life issues.

The following “little black book” of Farm Transitions Professionals is a place where you can keep track of the professionals you interview. It also includes a few questions you may want to ask each of them.  Print out a sheet for each professional to keep notes along with contact information.

Farm Transitions Professionals

C :: Finding a Successor
Write a job description – Whether the successor has been identified or not – you will be surprised how putting down on paper just what is expected and required to run the farm business. It can be an eye opener for the next generation farmer – they may not understand exactly what duties are involved in the business end of farming. It is more than the very visible chores of feeding, plowing, or repairing fence! The following worksheet includes an example of what a completed job description for a beef farm would look.

Job Description exercise 

D :: Compiling a Dossier for the farm

Regardless of how you plan on transitioning out of being the primary farmer for your business, it can be useful to the successor to have an inventory of what the farm business includes. This is not only a documentation of machinery and real-estate, it is also a place to include your values and farm history. This document need not be a memoir – nor should it be a laundry list – more of a hybrid of the two. The following example is a real farm in Minnesota, It looks and reads like a real-estate brochure. The owners of this farm are actively seeking a non-family member to take over their farm business and it is important to them that they find the right fit.

Marshwatch Farm Dossier

Worksheets are used with permission of John Baker - http://www.farmtransition.org/