Welcome to the Farm Transitions toolkit!  Farm Transitions means that the responsibility for a piece of agricultural land is changing hands.  Maybe the ownership of the land will change.  Maybe that ownership will move from one generation to the next in the same family.  Maybe ownership will move from one family to a different one.  Maybe ownership of the land will stay the same, but different people will be in charge of operating the farm and making the day-to-day decisions.  The transition might happen quickly, or it might happen gradually over a period of months or years.

Whatever the case, this Farm Transitions toolkit offers information, advice, and help to plan those changes.   It’s a complex project that takes effort and communication from family members and others, but planning for the farm transition just might be the most important thing you can do for your land.  What’s it all about and how can this Toolkit help?  We’ll start with the basic “5W+H” questions:  Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How?


Who are you?  Are you a:

-        Retiring Farmer

-        A farmer who isn’t ready to retire yet

-        Spouse of a farmer

-        Child or other heir of a farmer

-        Non-farming owner of agricultural land

-        Spouse of a non-farming landowner

-        Child or heir of a non-farming landowner

-        Legal or financial advisor to a farmer or landowner

All of these kinds of people have a stake in the process of transitioning a farm into new hands.  Any one of these folks can be the champion, or the “spark” that starts the process.


What should you do?

Farmers and farmland owners should create a plan for the passing of farm property into new hands, The plan should ensure that both the elder generation and the heirs are treated fairly; that the new farmers starting out on the land have a reasonable chance to make it financially; and that the land will be cared for in the way that your family wants it to be cared for.


When should you make a plan?

It’s never too early to start educating yourself and family members about the options for farm transitions.  Even if the family isn’t ready, yet, to put a formal plan in place – even if no one else wants to talk about it – anytime is a good time to start learning and laying some groundwork for future discussions.  There is no time that’s too early, but there are times that are too late.  Some of the profiles later in the toolkit are cautionary tales about what can happen if planning is delayed too long.


Of course, your plan will focus on your family’s farm property and wherever that happens to be located, but it’s useful to take a look at that property through the lens of farm transition planning.  Where does that property lie in relationship to major urban areas, to recreational areas, to farm infrastructure and services (such as co-ops and elevators), and to human services (such as schools, grocery stores, and hospitals)?  All of these things have an impact on the value of the property, how interested a younger generation may be in carrying on the farm operation, and what sort of programs you can access to help with financing the farm transition.


Why go through the stress and the difficult family conversations to try to put together a farm transition plan?

The more you can communicate with family members and with advisors (legal and financial), the more likely that the farm transition can be accomplished satisfactorily, without anyone being caught by surprise.  Worthy goals like keeping the farm in the family, or keeping a lifetime of conservation practices intact when the farm changes hands, aren’t likely to happen by accident.  They take some work, and they take some level of agreement from all of the parties with an interest in the property, and in almost all cases they take some legal documents.


How should you get started on your Farm Transitions plan?

There’s not really a wrong place to start.  Every family is different.  Take a look at the flow chart on the next page, pick a question or an idea that seems like it would resonate with your family, and start from there.  You don’t have to read this document straight through from start to finish.  It’s set up so that you can start in various places and jump around.

Don’t know where to start?

If you’re feeling really overwhelmed and need to talk to a real person instead of reading fact sheets and looking at charts, there’s help available!  See our list of organizations that offer one-on-one coaching and advice for farm transitions.

Aout the Farm Transitions Tool Kit:

Jane Grimsbo Jewett, Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture
Hannah Lewis, National Center for Appropriate Technology
Alex Baumhardt, Land Stewardship Project
Farmers’ Legal Action Group

Robert Maggiani, National Center for Appropriate Technology
Rich Myers, National Center for Appropriate Technology

Brian DeVore, Land Stewardship Project
Jane Grimsbo Jewett, Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture
Karen Stettler, Land Stewardship Project
Cathy Svejkovsky, National Center for Appropriate Technology

Amy Bacigalupo, Land Stewardship Project
Terra Brockman, The Land Connection; Author, The Seasons on Henry’s Farm
Gary Hachfeld, University of MN Extension
Dean Harrington, Foresight Bank, Plainview
Amanda Heyman, Fare Grange Law Office, LLC
Jan Joannides, Renewing the Countryside
Joy Kirkpatrick, University of Wisconsin Center for Dairy Profitability
LouAnne Kling, Farm Advocate; Farm Transitions Coach
Jack LaValla, Riverland Community College; Farm Business Management instructor
Bill McMillin, Grass-fed Beef Producer & Land Stewardship Project Member, Plainview
John Mesko, Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota
Helene Murray, Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture
Brett Olson, Renewing the Countryside
Vicki Poier, Conventional Farmer; Land Stewardship Project Member, Montevideo area
Kent Solberg, Sustainable Farming Association, Livestock & Grazing Specialist
Susan Stokes, FLAG (Farmers’ Legal Action Group)
Craig Chase, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Iowa State University
Helene Murray, Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture
Brian Schoenborn, Attorney, Leonard, Street and Deinard Law Firm
Audrey Arner, Moonstone Farm, Montevideo, MN
Carmen Fernholz, A-Frame Farm, Madison, MN
Ann Lemke, Fresh Air Farm, Watkins, MN
Helen Bettendorf, St. Cloud, MN
John Baker, Iowa State University Beginning Farmer Center; Richard Cates, Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Craig Chase, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach; Ed Cox, Drake Agricultural Law Center, Drake University; Tim Delbridge, University of Minnesota; Gary Hachfeld, University of Minnesota Extension; Ann Johanns, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach; Rob King, University of Minnesota; Carl Little, National Center for Appropriate Technology; Jeri Neal, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Iowa State University; Teresa Opheim, Practical Farmers of Iowa

Funding and staff support for this project was provided by Land Stewardship Project through a USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development grant; the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture; and the National Center for Appropriate Technology.

Thank You

This toolkit would not have been possible without the expertise and energy offered by Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (MISA) staff members Jane Grimsbo Jewett and Helene Murray. In addition, Jane’s dedication to guiding the process of researching information, engaging writers and securing reviewers, along with her own researching and writing, has made this toolkit possible. Thank you, Jane and Helene.

The topic of farm transitions is broad and complex. The advisory committee members and reviewers shared their expertise from diverse backgrounds and served a key role in guiding and reviewing the form and content of the toolkit. Thank you to all.

This project was supported by the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA, Grant # 2010-03107. To find more resources and programs for beginning farmers and ranchers please visit, a component of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.

— Karen Stettler, Land Stewardship Project, November 12, 2013


Copyright 2013, Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture.

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The information given is for educational purposes only. Reference to commercial products or trade names is made with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture is implied.

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This publication was a collaborative effort of the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture, Land Stewardship Project, National Center for Appropriate Technology, and Farmers’ Legal Action Group; with partial funding from a USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Grant.