University of Maryland Extension

Transition planning

Author: 
Neith Little, Extension Agent, Urban Agriculture

Urban Ag home | Table of contents

Transition planning, also called succession planning or estate planning, means having proactive conversations about whether and how your farm has a future beyond you.

For a community urban farm, transition planning might include

  • working to improve the common problems of burnout and high turnover among not-for-profit farm managers and leading volunteers;
  • identifying and training future leaders;
  • building consensus among community members about the value and purpose of the farm in that community;
  • establishing a not-for-profit organization that can be responsible for the farm long-term;
  • and finding ways to protect the land as green space through re-zoning, purchase, or a land trust

For a for-profit urban agriculture business - whether a back-yard market garden, a high-tech indoor growing operation, or an independent garden center – transition planning might include

  • evaluating whether the business has the potential to continue beyond the management of the current owner;
  • brainstorming what the current owner would see as a positive outcome (scaling down, selling the business to fund retirement, getting bought out by a larger company, seeing the business continue under new management);
  • quantifying the net worth of the business;
  • talking with the people with an interest in the business (heirs, partners, long-time employees, investors, community members) about what their expectations and hopes are for the future of the business;
  • if operating as a sole proprietorship, considering other business structures that might better facilitate transferring the business to new owners;
  • figuring out how the business fits into the owner’s will;
  • and learning about state and federal estate taxes.

All types of farms will need to do three things:

  1. Clarify goals. What is the main purpose of the farm currently? For what purpose does it need to continue beyond current management?

  2. Make good recordkeeping routine. This kind of planning will pay off even in the short-term, if the farm manager has an emergency and needs to ask for help temporarily.

  3. Seek help from an attorney and an accountant. An attorney’s advice will be invaluable when dealing with wills, estates, business incorporation, and more. A tax accountant will be invaluable to both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations.

For more resources on farm succession planning, see the end of this chapter.

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