So, you are ready to retire. You’ve worked hard for many years and you now look forward to spending time with grandchildren, fishing, golf or taking that long-delayed trip to Hawaii.
However, there are just a couple problems that may need to be resolved. First, who will take over the farm?
Young people are not exactly beating a path to the doors of those farmers who are thinking about retiring. Young people instead are leaving the farm in favor of a life style in the city which they find more satisfying.
It is a scenario facing more farmers. According to the USDA’s 2007 Census, (the 2012 Census is still in the works) the fastest-growing group of farm operators is those 65 years and older.
The graying of America’s farmers is not a new phenomenon. The most recent statistics peg the number of U.S. farmers over age 65 at 823,000. Between 2002 and 2007, the number of farmers age 65 and over grew by 20 percent. A similar increase in the 2012 Census figures would put the number near 1,000,000.
Finding someone to take over the farm may require creative efforts by those looking to retire. Even those whose retirement is not planned for years will benefit from starting their planning now.
Because of the large values typical on many farms today, a gradual process over a number of years may be needed for a retirement to go as planned. A son or daughter, for example, may take on increasing labor responsibilities as well as increasing income, over several years. Eventually, a transfer of the farm assets can take place, sometimes the equipment first, then the land and/or livestock.
If no son or daughter is available or interested in taking over, another option is to groom someone outside the family. This is often a great opportunity for someone who wants to own a farm but has older siblings who are in line ahead of them.
Rutgers University has created a website to assist farmers in retirement planning. The site delves into topics such as retirement income, financial assessment, asset distribution and tax issues.
The website emphasizes the importance of both parties having a clear understanding, with a binding written legal contract, of how a transfer will take place. Getting an early start on transfer of farm ownership is the key to success. If you’re 55 years old and want to retire at 65, you likely would benefit by exploring your options now.
The Center for Rural Affairs provide six examples of agreements between new farmers or ranchers and retiring farmers.
Purdue University provides information on retirement issues including estate planning. The objective of the site is to help you organize your thoughts and information before you see an advisor about creating your estate plan.
Getting more young people involved in agriculture is part of the solution. Industry associations can be of invaluable assistance in helping to recruit young people into agriculture. While it is a long-range project, it is an important effort to generate interest in agriculture among youth.
For example, the Illinois Pork Producers Association is seeking youth age 16 to 22 with an interest in the pork industry to attend their 2012 Illinois Pork Leadership Institute. The program focuses on leadership, citizenship, and communication skills through hands-on experiences.
Another problem standing in the way of a smooth transfer of farm ownership is the U.S. Congress. They seem to be content keeping you in the dark on the estate tax question, making your tax planning impossible.
Tax implications will certainly impact any decisions in farm ownership transition. Without congressional action before Dec. 31, the estate tax exemption will shrink to $1 million per person with no spousal transfer and the top rate will increase to 55 percent on Jan.1, 2013, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.
The delay by the U.S. Congress in resolving the issue is further proof of Washington’s gridlock and irresponsibility toward U.S. farm families. Until the estate tax question is resolved, understanding the full consequences of transferring a family farm will remain an unknown.