LOCAL FLAVOUR: Farm Whisperer tackles tough subject of farm succession

Linda Geggie is executive director with CR-FAIR

With over half of local farmers looking to retire in the next decade we are going to see a major transfer of farm ownership in our region. One of the most challenging things facing retiring farmers is farm succession. Who will take over the farm? Many farm families struggle with facing how they can pass their farm to their children in a fair and transparent way? What if none of the children want to farm? How can we do it and still have retirement income?

The challenge around farm succession has been sitting with the Peninsula & Area Agricultural Commission (PAAC) and they recognize the need to support the farm community with this particularly challenging process. To this end they began to search for some expertise. Enter Elaine Froese. Elaine, they heard, is a “Farm Whisperer”. What, you might ask, is that? Well it is someone who works with farm families to tackle tough issues and come out intact and still friends on the other side.

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Elaine’s bio says she is a “coach who specializes in helping farm families’ work through issues surrounding succession, business or that family favourite – communication”. Elaine believes that courageous conversations are important and brings with her practical tools to help families work through hard subjects and take action.

With many farmers over the age of 60 in our region it seems to be a really topical issue for us. Who gets the family farm? What if there is no one to take it over, or who wants to take it over? To dig into this with local farmers, PAAC is hosting a workshop designed to “find fairness in farm transition, empower your family, increase farm profit and secure your legacy”. This workshop is designed for anyone who is either farming, or thinking of farming. Elaine is coming all the way from Manitoba to share her extensive experience.

It might be that no one in the family wants to take on the farm. What to do? Put your farm on the market and it is very likely that it will be bought as a rural estate. Many farmers would like to see their farms, that took hard work to establish and make successful, continue. One of the greatest barriers to new farmers is getting on the land. Are there options for continuing the farm as they retire with new farmers?

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Young Agrarians is an organization working to match up farmers both experienced and green, to landowners through the Young Agrarians Land Matching Program. The program is adapted from Quebec’s successful Banque de Terres (Land Bank) program and has been running successfully in Surrey and now has a position dedicated to supporting land matches on Vancouver Island. Leasing land is a real, viable solution for new farmers — however; it comes with its own set of unique challenges for both the land owner and the land leaser. Often there is the potential to develop a succession plan from this type of situation. Navigating this needs to allow for an exit strategy for the farm owners so that they can retire, while making it doable for the next generation of farmers on the land. Not easy, but not impossible. We are seeing examples of this working in our region.

Whether you have children or not, farm succession is inevitable. Even if you aren’t facing this today, it is likely you will be facing it in your future. I have read that almost half of farmers today don’t have a succession plan. It might be time to get working on this.

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The PAAC, Direct Farm Marketing Association, CR-Fair, and Farm Credit Canada, host the workshop at the Saanich Fairgrounds on Stelly’s Cross Road, on April 10 from 1 to 5 p.m. Register before March 31, for an early bird rate of $25, after that date it will be $30. Space is limited. Visit crfair.ca to find the registration link, call Isobel at 250-507-1121 or email isobelhoffmann@shaw.ca for more information.

Linda Geggie is the executive director with the Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable and can be reached at lgeggie@crfair.ca.

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