Transition Toolkit – Introduction

This toolkit grew from the stories we’ve heard from seasoned farmers struggling to see a way to pass their farm on to the next generation, and from the next generation struggling to find a way into agriculture. Our goal is to support the community with the information and inspiration needed to dig into non-family transition and develop plans that transfer lands, farm businesses and knowledge between generations.

Once upon a time, when a farmer was ready to retire and didn’t have a family successor, it was possible to sell the farm and/or business to a new farmer, who would continue the farming legacy of that land into the future. Today, land affordability is the number one challenge identified by new farmers.(1) North America is currently in the midst of what will be one of the greatest transfers of wealth in our time, which can be referred to as the Great Land Shift, where hundreds of millions of acres of North American farmland will change hands in the next two decades.(2) Many farmers are retiring without a family successor, and selling their farmland – most likely not to new and young farmers but to existing larger farms. 

The number of farmers under 35 has been in a steady decline, but the 2016 Census of Agriculture saw the first national increase in young farmers since 1991.(3) People of all ages are turning back to food growing because they value local and healthy foods to provide for their communities. This exciting change holds hope for a future generation coming back to the land. However, the cost of land and farming has risen sharply over the past 30 years, putting land ownership out of reach for many new farmers. In B.C., the cost of land increased 5.4% in 2019, with land in the expensive South Coast and Okanagan regions valued at an average of over $100,000 per acre.(4)

New approaches are needed. South of the border, organizations such as Land for Good and Agrarian Trust have been working to ensure that there is a way forward during these crucial times for foodlands transition. It has also become normative for a new generation to lease farmland in Canada: 50% of farm operators 35 years of age and younger are leasing land. Leasing is one essential solution to addressing land access, while others are needed to address equity and land affordability for the next generation. Young Agrarians has offered land access programming since 2013, first through Land Linking Workshops and the B.C. Land Access Guide, then piloting Quebec’s land matching methodology in 2016 in the Metro Vancouver and Fraser Valley area, which in 2018 scaled up to the B.C. Land Matching Program, thanks to funding from the Province of British Columbia and regional funders. There are now land matchers supporting farmers and farmland owners across B.C.

The primary audiences of this toolkit are farmers without a family successor and farmers looking to transition onto a land base in B.C. Current and entering farmers will find a framework for understanding non-family transition, information about different models, and how to gauge which model fits your vision and needs. The case stories and other anecdotes in this toolkit are real-world examples of farmers making transition happen in a very complex regulatory environment – to ensure that what they’ve built with a lifetime of labour will not be lost to the next generation. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. 

There are many excellent transition resources available in Canada. This toolkit is not intended to replace those, but rather to provide a complementary resource that highlights the non-family transition perspective. The six-stage process outlined here is designed to move you from setting your vision through the planning process to finalizing and maintaining your transition plan. Emphasis is placed on identifying what resources you need and when. Tools from other transition resources are included.

In this toolkit you will find:

  • Models to transition the farm to the next generation, focusing on non-family transition
  • Case stories to illustrate each model
  • Financial, legal, and regulatory considerations
  • Information about finding successors, interim planning, transitioning direct market customer bases, and more
  • Worksheets to support your transition planning process, both from existing sources and developed / adapted with non-family transition and diversified farms in mind
  • Legacy letters from current farmers
  • Resources and referrals

The goal is for you to be able to:

  • Learn about different models of non-family transition, and how to assess which models may be possible for you
  • Understand what legal, regulatory, and social considerations exist
  • Assess and document your vision, needs and next steps using the worksheets provided
  • Develop a transition team through the resources and referrals provided
  • Get inspired! 

TERMINOLOGY

A note about language: you’ll see some words used interchangeably such as farm transition, farm transfer, and farm succession. 

Foodlands: “Foodlands” includes farmland as well as recognizing a diversity of food harvesting systems which may not fit in the more narrowly defined category of “farmland,” particularly food systems tended by Indigenous peoples.

Farm Transfer: Passing a farm business and/or farmland from one generation or owner to another. Other related terms often used interchangeably are “farm succession” and “farm transition.”

Farm Transition: The process of planning to transfer the ownership, management, and operations of an agricultural business to a successor. It is used interchangeably with succession. Transition/succession can include the transfer of land, farm business, or both from one party to another. This toolkit primarily uses the word transition.

Current Farmer: The farmer who is on the land and planning for retirement with the goal of transitioning out of the land/farm business. For simplicity, this guide will refer to the “current farmer,” while acknowledging that there are often multiple current farmers involved.

Entering Farmer: The farmer who is transitioning into a farm business/land opportunity (may also be referred to as the successor). For simplicity, this guide will refer to the “entering farmer,” while acknowledging that there are often multiple entering farmers involved.

Land Access: Land Access addresses availability, appropriateness, affordability, security and findability, in pursuit of secure Land Tenure (land use rights).

Landholder: The person, group, or entity that holds use-rights to land. Land can be held privately, publicly, or in “trust”. Landholders can be farmers (current or retired), farm families and their heirs, non-farmers, organizations, and various levels of government.

(1) BC Stats. (2019). New Entrants Needs Assessment. bit.ly/NewEntrantNeedsAssessment
(2) Agrarians Trust. agrariantrust.org/about
(3) Statistics Canada. (2016). Census of Agriculture. statcan.gc.ca/pub/11-627-m/11-627-m2017010-eng.htm
(4) Farm Credit Canada. (2019). Farmland Values Report. fcc-fac.ca/fcc/resources/2019-farmland-values-report-e.pdf
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