What is Farm Transition?
Transition is the ongoing process of transferring the knowledge, skills, labour, management, control and ownership of the farm business to the next generation. Transition is a process that takes time and effort to work through and develop a comprehensive plan that best meets the needs of all those involved.
The farm is going through a process of change and the goal is to figure out how to effectively manage and navigate that. The objectives are to transition the management of the agricultural operation, including building new management capacity, transfer farm assets (land, buildings, equipment and livestock), and develop a long-term plan to ensure financial security and peace of mind for both the current and entering farmer.
In transition planning, form should follow function. Transition plans should be firmly anchored in a clear and shared vision between the parties involved. Every transition planning process is unique, just like every farm is unique. A process that flows from vision to implementation, with clearly identified stages and make-or-break moments at each stage, might look something like this:
This toolkit starts out by asking you to consider and define your needs in Stage 1, before providing some potential frameworks as solutions in Stages 2 and 3. Once you are clear on your vision and needs, you can then go on to seek out or design the solution that will fit those needs. We recommend reading this toolkit in full before starting to work on the tools. This toolkit dives deeply into Stages 1-3; while we’ve included information and tools for Stages 4-6, it’s essential to have support from your transition team during Stages 4-6.
*Note that as life never moves in a straight line, you may need to circle back to each of these stages repeatedly. For example, if someone joins your farm, you’ll need to revisit the vision stage to bring everyone onto the same page. Or, you may assess feasibility early on by having a property assessed, but over a few years the property value changes and you need to revisit feasibility.
While we refer throughout to the “current farmer” and “entering farmer,” think about who else needs to be involved in transition conversations and decisions. This will be different for each situation, but may include extended family, employees of the farm, people throughout the supply chain, other community members, lenders, and, of course, professionals such as lawyers and accountants.
The next sections of the guide will move you through developing your vision to assessing your vision against different models, and finally to tools and resources that will help you move into the action plan and documentation stage.
HOW LONG WILL TRANSITION PLANNING TAKE?
All good things take time to develop. You can’t rush a seed to germinate! Transitions are times of change, exciting, new and sometimes destabilizing. There is extensive knowledge to transfer, a legacy to honour, and a steep learning curve for everyone. It’s a people-centered process, which means it can be complicated, emotional, and it won’t always be comfortable.
Your timeline will be unique to your farm, both in terms of the planning process and the actual transfer of knowledge and assets. The time from the first conversation to when the entering farmer is running things completely independently might take anywhere from one to 15 years. As humans, we love certainty and clarity; developing concrete timelines is essential and will support communication and provide you with a roadmap towards common goals.
Many farmers say that they’ve started thinking about transition too late, and it doesn’t feel like there’s enough time to let the planning process, relationship building and knowledge transfer unfold. And while we do recommend thinking about transition early (even as you are starting your business) it’s never too late. After all, they say that the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, and the next best time is today. Farm transfer is never really complete; even as you work towards one transition you are already planting the seeds for the next.
This toolkit can support you to create your transition road map, and develop timelines that, along with your vision, will bring clarity and help guide your process.