Question of the Week
I am a beginning farmer who is taking over a beef cattle operation. How can I transition the operation to minimize disruption?
Transitioning a farm or ranch can be a challenging task, but there are certain things you can do to minimize disruption. Here are some suggestions and helpful resources.
First of all, it’s important for a new owner to start a conversation with the current farm manager to inform him of the changes, work out a schedule, and set out clear tasks for the transition. Communication will be key. Keep an open line of communication with the manager. Be very clear on the timeline, expectations, and needs; it will help with a peaceful transition. The current manager is very important in the transition process. Right now he holds most of the farm institutional and operational knowledge. You want him to be on your team and help you as much as possible. He needs to know that he is appreciated and acknowledged for his work and knowledge.
Planning the Future of Your Farm is a useful publication on farm planning. It is available at http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/446/446-610/446-610_pdf.pdf.
Specifically see the worksheets in Section 2: Evaluating Your Farm Resources, on pages 41 to 49. It will be important for you to learn as much as you can about the operation from the current manager and the current owners. Section 2 of this document outlines many of the major components of the farm. This will give you a good understanding of what is there and in place (or not in place). Having the current manager and owners provide the information in the worksheets will be very helpful in understanding what you are starting with. It will be important to know the resources the farm currently uses for veterinary services, equipment repairs, farm help/hired hands, and the purchase of feed/hay.
Next, you will need to determine what the operating agreement/compensation will be. The current manger will need to set an "end date" with the new manager. Based on their arrangement, it might be after the calf crop is weaned/sold or whenever makes the most sense. It would be wise to have an additional arrangement/pay for him to help through the transition and complete some tasks that he doesn't normally do. You might pay him to help you through the first calving, or whatever you would like help with. The operating agreement might outline who will make which decisions about the farm and when those decisions will transfer to you. If he completes the document above (or something similar), be sure to pay him for the time he spends doing so. Be sure to put things in writing; draft a document or contract outlining the tasks and times you would like his help and the compensation you will provide. That way you both can be clear on what his role will be during the transition and how he will be compensated.
Another useful resource for writing a transition plan is Developing a Written Transition Plan Outline, from the University of Minnesota Extension. It is available at www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/businessmanagement/components/M1177-9.pdf.
Lastly, you will want to take part in farm planning. Once you take over, then it is your turn to plan. As you are going through this transition, it is a great time to set a vision and goals for the operation. You will be learning where you are starting from, and then you can set goals to move your operation to where you want it to be.
For more information, check out ATTRA's Beginning Farmer section at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/local_food/startup.html.
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