Category: Transition

Rural Lands At Risk In The West As Ranchers Prepare For Retirement

  FEB 2, 2018

Winds were gusting over 45 miles per hour on an overcast day at the Dunmire Ranch in southeastern Wyoming. Black cows grazed in the distance with wind turbines lined up on the horizon. At the center of ranch, young colts milled around the corral. Gator, a 14-year-old blind and deaf dog, barked, guarding the home of rancher Les Dunmire.

Inside the house, Dunmire put on his dirt-caked cowboy hat and boots, as he told me how he’s owned this ranch for just over 30 years and that this lifestyle goes back generations.

“My dad had a ranch in Iron Mountain Wyoming and my granddad had a ranch in Sioux County, Nebraska,” Dunmire said.

Land on the Dunmire Ranch
CREDIT COOPER MCKIM/WYOMING PUBLIC RADIO

 

Back when he started in 1987, Dunmire only had a few hundred head of cattle. Now, he owns over 100,000 acres and 1800 head of cattle. But at 66, Dunmire is starting to take a step back from it all.

“I always tell people that I’m going to work as long as I can and then become a burden for my children,” Dunmire said,”but seriously, as we get older we do a little less. As we get older, we transfer more of the day-to-day operations of the ranch to our children.”

Dunmire said he sees passing on lands as the last responsibility of a rancher. “We’re trying to get it to the next generation, or the next two generations, intact with the smallest amount of tax pain that we could possibly have,” Dunmire said.

He’s been preparing for succession now for 26 years. It’s required an accountant and lawyer to figure out the best way to keep his kids from drowning in estate taxes. One strategy has been to divide the land into six legal entities. To put the situation in context, Dunmire recounted the story of how his dad came into his ranch. It also serves as a worst-case scenario of poor estate planning.

Sign at the entrance of the Dunmire Ranch
CREDIT COOPER MCKIM/WYOMING PUBLIC RADIO

 

“There was kids that wanted to stay there, but when the grandfather passed away he had not done any estate planning or gifting or anything to get ready to pass it on. And they had to sell the ranch, basically, because of [the] tax situation,” Dunmire said.

He’s far from the only one going through this process. In 2012, the average age of farmers and ranchers hit a record high of 58 years old. According to a report from the National Young Farmers Coalition, 63 percent of farms are on the verge of transitioning. Experts say the U.S. needs to be prepared for a massive land transfer in the next decade.

John Hewlett, a farm and ranch management specialist at the University of Wyoming, is one of many who working to smooth that transition.

“A lot of folks need help in terms of transferring ownership, worrying about how to best structure their farm or ranch in terms of tax, as well as making sure that the ownership is transferred such that the ranch or farm can be viable after the transfer,” Hewlett said.

He said easing the transition isn’t just about helping the older generation, but the younger one. That’s increasingly tough with fewer and fewer young people joining the industry. In 2012, only 6 percent of farmers were under 35.

“They become educated and they have other income opportunities as a result. It’s a lot different than 50 years ago when a lot of people’s focus was to be on the land, and to do some kind of jobs on the farm. It was part of the family’s activities,” Hewlett said.

Principal operators by age group
CREDIT USDA CENSUS OF AGRICULTURE

 

He’s helped create a website full of resources on steps to take in land succession. There are many other organizations offering seminars, programs, and workshops as well, like the Plank Stewardship InitiativeUniversity of Wyoming Extension, and the Western Landowners Alliance. Lesli Allison, executive director of the WLA, said her organization wants to help lower the barriers to entry for young people by supporting policies like loan debt forgiveness programs for those weighed down by student debt.

“As a nation, we need to be looking at policies and economic strategies to sustain these landscapes and make it possible for people to make a living in the rural west, to stay on that land, to raise families on that land, to stay in rural communities in a way that supports both agriculture and conservation,” Allison said.

She said a football field worth of land is lost to development every two and half minutes in the west. And that’s partially private land that supports wildlife, clean air and water, and biodiversity.

Average Age of Principal operators
CREDIT USDA CENSUS OF AGRICULTURE

 

Allison said beginning the process of land succession early is crucial to preserving ranches and farms, whether there’s an obvious heir or not. That starts by simply talking about it.

“Simply raising awareness and encouraging uncomfortable conversations.” Allison said, “they can become quite positive and transformative.”

Back at the ranch, Dunmire drove his red truck through a shallow, ice-laden stream, giving way to an open field with hundreds of cows grazing. A few trotted out of the way as the truck drove past. Dunmire said he’s loved raising a family on the ranch.

“The family is intertwined with the ranch and it’s a great place to raise cattle and kids,” Dunmire said.

And he said he feels lucky to pass that on.

WHO AM I IF I AM NOT A FARMER or RANCHER ANYMORE?

FIND PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL OPPORTUNITY.

Let’s face it, transitioning to a niche market or picking up more work is not a solution for every farmer facing hard times. Some will need to stop farming. While that may be hard, it can also be an opportunity.

Outside agriculture, career shifts are often seen as a way to advance, points out Extension educator Megan Roberts. “In other occupations, if we switch jobs, that’s not seen in any way as a failure,” she says.

READ MORE: Shortage of truck drivers means opportunities for farmers 

Here’s a look at how to stop farming and the opportunities that come with the change. Ending a career in farming begins with making a decision.

Mental health practitioner Shauna Reitmeier explains, “In some situations, that decision is something you’re choosing to do on your own without any external pressures, and in some situations, you have to do it in order to sustain. We know that this current environment we’re in, many farmers dealing with commodity prices and weather situations are needing to decide, ‘Do I liquidate? Do I need to sell half of my dairy cattle, or not?’ ”

Anxiety and worries about the unknown are totally normal, she says. To keep from getting overwhelmed, it is important to recognize what is in your control and what you can’t control.

Keeping your values front and center as you make decisions may ease the heartache of difficult choices. Ask yourself, what are the two or three values that drive you to get up every day?

“Yes, farming is a way of life and we identify ourselves with farming, but it’s really those strong values that get you up every morning to continue to farm. Those values don’t change based on whether you’re farming,” Reitmeier says.

“It isn’t the farm that makes the farmer – it’s the love, hard work, and character,” says Brenda Mack, who lives on a farm and works as a licensed independent clinical social worker.

After making the decision to end or pivot your farming career, don’t expect to bounce back overnight. Some people experience real grief and loss over the change, and that’s OK, says Reitmeier, who grew up on a farm. Be prepared for the following range of emotions as you make decisions, develop plans, and put them in place.

  • “Normal” functioning
  • Shock and denial: Avoidance, blame, fear, numbness
  • Anger: Anxiety, embarrassment, irritation

“You might be having more fights with your spouse or get more irritable with the lenders you’re having conversations with,” Reitmeier says.

  • Depression and detachment: Blahs, helplessness, lack of energy
  • Dialogue and bargaining: Reaching out to others, desire to share one’s story, struggle to find meaning for what happened
  • Acceptance: Exploring options, a new plan in place
  • Return to meaningful life: Empowerment, security, self-esteem, meaning

The stages of grief may not all come in this order. “One day you’re angry, the next day you’re feeling a little acceptance, another day you’re depressed. You’re all over the place,” Reitmeier says.

Mack remembers watching her own parents process their decision to retire from farming. The transition was especially hard for her proud, third-generation row-crop farming father.

After retiring, her dad felt as though he didn’t fit at the table of neighboring farmers discussing their problems at the local café. He struggled to find where he belonged. Conversations with his wife, other farmers, his priest, and a mental health therapist all helped him find a new, broader identity for himself and a renewed sense of purpose.

“I was really proud of my dad for having the understanding and ability, and not feeling shame in reaching out to a formal provider because that can be really terrifying. It can be hard to go see a mental health provider, but it’s what he needed at that point in time,” Mack explains.

Mack acknowledges mental health resources aren’t always easy to find in rural areas.

In addition to seeking professional mental health services, there are other strategies to cope with the massive changes that come with the end of a farming career.

Keep in mind who you are in addition to your role as a farmer. Farmers wear many hats: parent, child, sibling, community leader, church member, history enthusiast, 4-H leader, to name a few.

Building self-awareness can help you discover you are more than what you do. If you’re struggling to get out of the grief and loss process, Reitmeier suggests knowing your body cues. Sensing when they become different can be helpful. Also, keep tabs on your relational, cognitive, and physical health

LEARN MORE

Cultivating Resiliency resources are presented by American Agri-Women, District 11 Minnesota Agri-Women, University of Minnesota – Women in Ag Network, and Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center.

umash.umn.edu/cultivating-resiliency-webinars/

The 7 Critical Skills Of Successful Strategic Thinkers

Life as business are both long-term races. They require to fully commit to the present while seeing through years ahead in order to define and achieve the best of the future. They require to embrace today while deciding on objectives, understanding the options, creating possible alternative scenarios and situations and determining the direction to be followed. They require strategic thinking.

Defined as the process that determines the manner in which people think about, assess, view, and create the future for themselves and others, strategic thinking is basically the ability to know what you want to achieve and how to achieve it. Developing a strategic approach is not always easy as it is as much a mindset as a set of techniques. However, it does result in the main difference between an average and an exceptional achiever.

Success and achievement can not just be left to hazard.  In a study conducted by Harvard Business Review, 97% of the 10,000 senior executives asked chose strategy as the most critical leadership behavior to their organizations’ future success. Strategic thinkers are able to imagine the big picture, identify the possible impact of their decisions and project the way to get there. These are the seven traces that define them all.

  1. Vision

Strategic thinkers are able to create and stick to a very clear visioning process. Using both the left (logical) and right (creative) sides of their brain, they defined an ambitious but rigorous vision of what needs to be achieved. A clear, positive and big enough vision is what inspires for action and pulls in ideas, people and other resources. A vision is what enables commitment and moves the needed energy to make it happen. In this way, strategic thinkers are visionary leaders. They see the potential for how the world should exist and take steps to get there.

“The purpose of life is a life of purpose” (Robert Byrne)

    1. Framework

Vision should be carefully embedded within a framework. Successful strategic thinkers have the ability to define their objectives and develop an action plan with goals broken down into tasks specifically measured in terms of timeline and resources. They set up deadlines and they commit to them. Self-aware enough, they are conscious of their own biases and factor their own circumstances, perspectives, and points of view within this framework. This helps them to ensure that their own backgrounds are not an impediment but a boost to their goals. Their framework envisions always a plan A, B, and C that drives them all to the same expected result. They factor all possible ways within a reasonable timeline for action.

  1. Perceptiveness

Strategic thinkers are able to look around and understand the world from all the different perspectives. They listen, hear and read between the lines. They observe before forming a judgment and absorb and make use of the different angles that could be helpful for better guidance. They understand peoples’ intentions, hopes, and desires and play with them in a symbiotic way that could help all to achieve greater. They recognize internal and external clues that may sharp and clear the direction to be taken. They are able to grasp the perfect match and put together all the pieces of the puzzle. They are able to feel the breeze because they know that big achievements are just the collection of all the different angles.

  1. Assertiveness

They are good at decision-making. After a comprehensive evaluation, they chose the way to go and walk firmly into it without vacillation. They may doubt but they do not let the doubts to fog the vision. They communicate effectively what they want and need by using clear orders while simultaneously respecting the thoughts and wishes of others. They are able to react appropriately under pressure and reduce anxiety by sticking to their decision and avoiding excessive questioning. Through high levels of confidence and self-esteem, they receive both compliments and critics in a constructive way. They defend their points of view without harming others and manage to convince without force or hostility. They are easily followed.

“Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude” (Zig Ziglar)

  1. Flexibility

Strategic thinkers are clearly aware of their weaknesses so they are committed to seeking the advice of others. They are humble enough to be flexible and twist their ideas and framework as to truly achieve the desired vision. They do not confuse flexibility with lack of structure. They accept the rules of the game because they are aware that without rules there is no fair game. Strategic thinkers are flexible thinkers what allows them to shift gears and think about something in more than one way and develop different strategies. Along with working memory and self-control, flexible thinking is one of the three main executive skills allowing to properly manage thoughts, actions, and emotions to get things done.

“Life is a sum of all our choices” (Albert Camus)

  1. Emotional Balance

Strategic thinkers are able to balance their emotions in a way that always favors the achievement of the ultimate goals. They are aware of their emotions, they are able to name them when they arrive, they do not react to them as an important element of accepting them and just when they are over control of them, they take a decision. Whether they received positive or negative feedback, they are able to deal with it, understand and respond in a way that protects and progresses toward their desired outcome. They are able to control and master the three drivers of any emotional state. They stand tall and breathe fully as part of their physiological reaction. They think positive and look for the opportunity as part of their psychological reaction. They are kind, compassionate and optimistic whenever facing their language response.  Strategic thinkers are tremendously creative but they are able to balance this creativity with pragmatism through a sense of realism and honesty about actuality. They are realistic optimists.

       7. Patience

Strategic thinkers do not ignore that achievement is a long-term ride. Milestones have all a concrete time and moment. And success is the result of a process of strategically planned work and efforts. Strategic thinkers have the ability to be patient. They do not rush conclusions. They do not bet it all at once. They invest their energies in a way that is sustainable and led by a long-term vision. They have learned to wait.

“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time” (Leo Tolstoy)

10 Best Management Practices for Running a Profitable Ranch

Some folks purchase rural land for pleasure as much as for profit. Motivated by a dream of running a hunting operation, raising cattle or having their own place to roam, they may forget that the land can help to pay for itself.

Do first things first. Most people never accomplish their goals because they focus on what they know how to do, what they like to do, what’s easiest and what’s urgent. – Danny Klinefelter (Texas A&M University agricultural economist)

“Most people ranch or farm because they love growing things, they love animals, they love being outside, or they love being independent,” says Danny Klinefelter, an AgTexas Farm Credit board member and Texas A&M University agricultural economist. “Not as many enjoy the financial, marketing and people management sides of the business. But these days, that’s where you need to focus.”

Klinefelter offers ten best management practices that can be especially helpful for new ag operators and rural landowners.

“These are things that any producer can do, but that 95 percent of producers don’t,” says Klinefelter, who is also a farm management expert with Texas AgriLife Extension. “If you’re looking for ways to get better, this list would be a good place to start.”

 

1. Match costs with revenues. (Book)

Too many producers treat costs and earnings separately. Focus on managing the margin between costs and revenue by looking a few months ahead. Cattle producers, for instance, can lock in the price of future inputs such as feed, and then use the cattle futures market to protect their selling risk.

“Too often, farmers and ranchers wait to get a better deal,” Klinefelter says. “If you lock in a profit, it’s hard to go broke.”

2. Play “What if?” . (Website)

Don’t limit yourself to considering most-likely outcomes. Plan for the worst. Start with the four Ds—what if someone dies or becomes disabled, what if there’s a divorce, or what if a key player departs?

Klinefelter uses insurance to illustrate the need for contingency planning. If you take off a hay crop every year for extra income, you might be able to ride out a drought. But if you produce hay and cattle in a drought-prone region, you may want to consider weighing the cost of Pasture, Rangeland and Forage Insurance against the cost of  purchasing hay for feed.

“You might hate to pay the premium, but look at what could go wrong and ask yourself if you can afford it,” Klinefelter says.

3. Stay on top of your business. (Book)

“Successful managers monitor and analyze their performance,” Klinefelter says. “They’re more likely to spot problems and opportunities before it’s too late. Business problems are like cancer—they eat away at profits. But if you spot them early, they’re often treatable.”

For example, many ag operators take last year’s cash-flow budget and adjust it for next year.

“Usually, lenders won’t settle for this,” Klinefelter says. “They know that ranchers and farmers consistently overestimate projected earnings.”

Each month, check projections against current cash flow. If this month proves worse than projected, you may need to adjust your expenditures.

4. Establish priorities—the 80:20 rule. (Book)

The 80:20 rule says that 80 percent of what we accomplish is produced by 20 percent of what we do.

“Do first things first,” Klinefelter says. “Most people never accomplish their goals because they focus on what they know how to do, what they like to do, what’s easiest and what’s urgent.”

For example, if you operate a hunting ranch and prefer the hands-on work of building feeders and maintaining deer blinds over marketing, it might pay to hire a marketing professional to promote the business.

profitable ranch advice

5. Conduct autopsies.

Evaluate key decisions to avoid repeating mistakes. What went well and what went poorly? What did you overlook, and which assumptions led you wrong? What did you learn?

Consider the rancher who raises purebred cattle for potential embryo and breeding stock sales. If that business model is too labor- or input-intensive, it may be time to switch to a more traditional cow-calf business model.

6. Do little things better—the 5 percent rule.

“Studies show that the most sustained success comes from doing 20 things 5 percent better, rather than doing one thing 100 percent better,” Klinefelter says. “Also, the most profitable producers tend to be only about 5 percent better than average farmers in terms of costs, production or marketing.”

He uses wheat to illustrate how little things add up. Assume the seasonal average wheat price was $7 a bushel. Others waited for prices to hit $8, but that never happened. You locked in a sure thing by forward-contracting for $7.35, just 5 percent higher than the average price.

7. Benchmark your performance.

“Most producers have no clue how they stack up against their competition,” Klinefelter says. “They think they’re average or a little above—but it’s not possible for everyone to be average or above. How do you stack up against the top 25 percent?”

Consider, for instance, that you raise cattle, and your calves have a lower average birthrate than those on similar operations. Find out how others have improved survival rates in their herds.

profitable-ranch-advice-cows

8. Analyze what to stop doing.

“Successful managers spend as much time analyzing what they need to stop doing as they do evaluating new opportunities,” Klinefelter says. Such analysis can lead to shedding assets, enterprises, people, land leases or unnecessary practices.

He cites the case of a family that produced milo and cotton crops that were only marginally profitable. They generated more profits buying calves and putting them on winter wheat in November, and selling them each spring.

“These brothers decided to lease their cropland to other farmers and focus on what they did best—raising cattle. It made a huge difference,” he says.

9. Use accrual-adjusted income to evaluate profitability.

“Cash-basis accounting is great for simplicity and tax management, but it’s a poor way to measure true profitability,” Klinefelter says. “Cash-basis often lags accrual-adjusted accounting by two to three years in recognizing profit downturns and upturns. By then, it’s too late to respond.”

You don’t need an accrual accounting system, however; simply prepare balance sheets that reflect the beginning and end of the period for which you’re measuring income. Include inventories, accounts receivable, prepaid expenses, accounts payable and accrued expenses.

10. Learn from the E-myth principle. (Book)

The E-Myth” a book by Michael Gerber, talks about how many people believe they can succeed as entrepreneurs, when in reality most small businesses fail. Gerber maintains that most business owners begin with a fatal assumption—that if you understand the technical side of your business, you understand how to run the entire business.

Klinefelter suggests you apply this lesson to ranching, by learning about other players that affect your operation—employees, buyers, suppliers and funding sources.

“Find the top three things that most frustrate each of these groups in dealing with a business like yours. If you can reduce those frustrations, you can become the supplier, customer, employer, borrower or tenant of choice,” he says. For example, ag lenders such as Farm Credit like to hear from customers when changes occur—don’t wait until the end of the year to contact them.

Do you manage a ranch or farm? Share your tips for running a successful business in the comments section.


This article appears in the fall 2016 issue of Texas LAND magazine and was provided by Farm Credit Bank of Texas. Visit www.landmagazines.com to read more and subscribe to future issues of both LAND magazine and Texas LAND magazine.

8 traits for effectively leading the family ranch forward

Amanda Radke

I received a phone call from a college student recently. He was a freshman studying animal science and had been assigned the task of interviewing beef industry leaders to learn about their careers and to gain advice and insights for their own futures in agriculture.

I took the call while driving to a FFA fundraiser where I was speaking, and he asked me a wide variety of questions. What would you do differently in your college years? What advice would you give to a college student wanting to be involved in the industry? Who do you look up to in agriculture? What motivates you in your career? Why is it so difficult to bridge the gap between consumers and producers?

Honestly, the conversation spurred many ideas for future columns.

However, one question in particular got me thinking during my road trip. He asked me, “What challenges do you face on your family ranch?”

“I noticed I was placing the burden squarely on my folks to figure everything out. That’s when I realized that I hadn’t necessarily expressed these concerns or vocalized how much or how little we were willing to take on, should my parents decide they are ready to retire.”

Admittedly, I had a hard time answering at first. Our problems seem so “common,” and I wasn’t sure which one to pinpoint as a challenge worth noting. Do we communicate well? Is our transition plan solid? Does our multi-generational business operate as smoothly as it could? Is there room for improvement?

We certainly don’t want to “push” him out before he’s ready. On the contrary, I could use a little more time to get my own affairs in order, so I feel confident and financially secure to purchase assets as he transitions into retirement.

It’s just the unknowing. How soon will we need to be ready? What will a purchase agreement look like? How much can we take on?

In thinking about those variables, I noticed I was placing the burden squarely on my folks to figure everything out. That’s when I realized that I hadn’t necessarily expressed these concerns or vocalized how much or how little we were willing to take on, should my parents decide they are ready to retire.

So I made a goal for myself — to schedule a meeting for all of us this summer. The discussion of this family business meeting wouldn’t necessarily be on the “when,” but on the “hows,” so when the time comes to transition the operation into new leaders — whether that’s six months or six years from now — we’ll know what the plan is and how it will be executed.

I’m sure it will take more than one discussion, but we’ve got to start somewhere, and it needs to start with me. By being transparent in my own goals and plans and by being willing to communicate and walk through all scenarios and potential pitfalls, I hope it will be a seamless transition that leaves the business intact and the family harmonious.

I recently read an article that addresses what it takes to be an effective leader in the family business. Written by Steve Moyer for SKM Associates, the article recaps management guru Peter Drucker’s list of traits that make for a great executive in business.

Drucker’s list includes:

• 1. Ask what needs to be done.

He says, “Get the knowledge you need by asking what needs to be done, and take the answers seriously. Failing to ask this question will render the leader ineffective. Once you know the to-do list, set priorities and stick to them.”

• 2. Ask what’s right for the enterprise.

“Don’t focus on what’s right for individuals (i.e. owners, family members, employees or customers.),” writes Drucker. “What is right for the enterprise may not be right for individual stakeholders or family members.”

• 3. Develop action plans.

“Set a plan that specifies results and constraints compatible with family and organizational goals,” he advises. “Create check-in milestones and revise your plan as necessary to reflect new opportunities or insight.”

• 4. Take responsibility for actions.

• 5. Take responsibility for communicating.

• 6. Embrace change.

• 7. Run productive meetings.

• 8. Say “we” not “I”

You can read more of Drucker’s tips here: http://netfamilybusiness.blogspot.com.

I would love to hear what has worked for your family in effectively running business meetings, guiding conversations and making meaningful and lasting decisions for the operation and the family. Please email me your advice to amanda.radke@informa.com. Thanks. ❖