Government Incentives for Agricultural Generational Transfer? 

A transition plan outlines the process of transferring an agricultural operation from one generation to the next and includes details regarding transfer of both management (succession plan) and assets (estate plan).  Surveys and anecdotal evidence report low success rates for farm transitions and argue inadequate transfer plans or lack of a transfer plan explain the low success rates of agricultural operation survival, despite most producers’ desire to keep their farm or ranch in one piece and in the family.  Transition planning is difficult for many reasons, both logistical (requires time and resources such as accounting and/or legal help) and psychological (brings up thoughts of mortality and often involves tough decisions and conversations); therefore, producers tend to delay planning altogether.  

We surveyed U.S. ranchers regarding plans to transition their ranch to the next generation and received a total of 148 responses, mostly from Texas (66.9%) producers.  Survey participants shared information about their operational structure, family dynamics, and details of their ranch transition plans or roadblocks preventing them from developing a plan.  Less than 40% of survey participants have a transition plan in place.  

Chi-square tests for independence revealed relationships between some characteristics and the presence of a transition plan.  Results indicate a positive relationship between operational structure and succession planning, i.e., producers who have put in time and effort to organize their operation beyond a sole proprietorship are more likely to have a succession plan.  Results also indicate age and net worth each have a positive relationship with succession planning – we observed an increasing percent of respondents with a succession plan as net worth increased, until net worth reached $15,000,000.  

Survey participants answered open-ended questions regarding their transition plans and roadblocks to planning – responses are summarized in Table 1.  Operational longevity in agriculture depends on the ability of farms and ranches to survive from one generation to the next.  Since evidence shows this process has proven difficult for producers, is there a role for the government to play in incentivizing the generational transfer of agricultural operations? 

Table 1. Survey Results – Transition Planning Themes and Roadblocks

Transition Planning ThemesRoadblocks to Transition Planning
Utilizing a trust to protect and transfer control of assetsResistance from senior generation
Plans to transfer ranch assets and management to on-farm heirs and personal assets of off-farm heirsLack of time or making time to plan
Utilizing an LLC, corporation, or partnership to facilitate lifetime transfer of operationLack of knowledge/education in transition planning
Utilizing an LLC, corporation, or partnership to create membership agreements and set restrictionsFinding professional legal/accounting help
Lifetime, or inter vivos, transfer of shares (or interest) in the operation to heirs, whether purchased or gifted to the upcoming generationLegal fees
Equitably dividing assets between on-farm and off-farm heirs
Lack of a successor
Difficulty managing lots of owners
Difficult family dynamics/communication
Difficult land or asset structure
Estate tax considerations

Graff, Natalie. “Is there a role for the government in incentivizing the generational transfer of agricultural operations?Southern Ag Today 4(25.4). June 20, 2024. Permalink