Future farm planning and strategy were themes of the Virginia Grain and Soybean Annual Conference earlier this year.
University of Nebraska Harlan Agribusiness Professor Emeritus Dr. Ron Hanson kicked off the event by reminding producers that while nearly 80% of farmers say they want their farms to be passed to their children, only 20% have a succession plan.
“It’s the parent’s responsibility to start the plan,” Hanson told the audience. “Empty chairs at the dinner table happen, so you better have a plan in place.”
Some farm families avoid estate planning because it’s emotionally difficult, and discussions about money, property and land ownership can put family relationships to the test. Secrets and fear of sharing financial information become roadblocks to putting a plan into place.
Hanson added that many farmers refuse to accept that they won’t always be there.
According to estate planning service AgriLegacy, only 30% of family farms make it past the second generation. The numbers go down from there, with only 12% transitioning to the third generation and 3% beyond that. “Who will end up owning the farm?” Hanson asked. “Many times, the person who stayed behind may not get to be the one, unless there’s a plan.”
Keeping with the future farming theme, Dr. Susan Duncan, associate director of the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station at Virginia Tech, said artificial intelligence, genome editing, robotics, 3-D printing, drones and augmented reality are all fast-approaching technological changes.
She discussed the newly formed Virginia Tech Smart Farm Innovation Network, which will work with industry to help commercialize new technologies and address modern farming concerns, such as securing, transferring and protecting farm data.
“Smart farms are wise farms, and wise farms look after their data,” Duncan commented.
The conference also covered grain and soybean marketing. Speakers Robert Harper, grain marketing manager for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, and Josey Moore, VFBF commodity specialist, mentioned that while grain prices may turn around this year, it could be months before the China Phase 1 trade deal makes a difference in export sales. They advised farmers to be proactive. “Sell early, sell often,” and have a strategic marketing plan to prepare for market uncertainty with political and trade issues, Moore said.