Workshops teach families the necessary skills to transition land

Virginia license plates featuring a farm theme.

The programs are funded in part by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Office of Farmland Preservation with proceeds from the sale of “Farming Since 1614” license plates. Since 2008, money from the specialty plates has been used for nearly 30 farm transition workshops.

Fourth-generation farmers Mary and A.C. “Corky” Shackelford Jr. have more than 360 acres of land, and they aren’t getting any younger. With three children as well as farm employees, they needed to figure out how to distribute their assets — a common problem as farm families age.

Agriculture and natural resources Extension agents like Amy Gail Fannon, Adam Downing, and Peter Callan teach land-transitioning workshops to help families pass on their land, whether it’s farmland or forestland.

The workshops discuss legal issues and tactics for communicating with family members and obtaining a power of attorney. Agents engage lawyers, certified public accountants, and other professionals as guest speakers to provide insight and real-world examples of the process, while participants have an open environment to ask questions.

As the result of workshops in Lee County, 66 percent of attendees said they would start the farm transition planning process, and 90 percent said they would seek professional assistance with financial and retirement planning.

Downing teaches workshops geared more to forestland owners. He says that land transitioning isn’t just about perpetuating land ownership; it is also part of the equation keeping families together through generations. Teaching workshops is one of the most impactful things he does because the land transition process impacts the future so directly.

Since 2009, 159 forestland owners with nearly 60,000 acres have completed the annual two-day Generation NEXT short course that is co-sponsored by Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Virginia Department of Forestry.

“Follow-up surveys reveal that within six months of participation, 75 percent have begun estate planning,” said Downing. “Participants also report significant financial savings in legal fees and potential estate taxes as a result of this program.”

Callan has worked to evolve his farm transition workshops over the years, making them shorter to fit the needs of participants. His workshops start with a discussion of communication issues between family members.

The Shackelford family went to Callan’s class after hearing about it through their local Extension office.

“Neither of us is getting any younger, and we want to see our farm continue beyond our time,” Corky Shackelford said.

According to the Shackelfords, the lawyer who discussed partnerships and corporations was the most helpful part of the workshop. Since then, they continue to follow Callan’s advice of holding family meetings to discuss the farm.

“We would’ve never thought about how to transition our farm if it wasn’t for that class,” said Mary Shackelford.

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