Central Illinois Farm Families Plan for the Future of Their Farmland
On a Tuesday evening in mid-September, nearly 60 individuals representing more than 15 farm families from around Central Illinois gathered in Homer, Illinois, to share their experiences and learn from local experts on the challenges of planning for the succession of their farmland.
Over the next five years, landowners in the United States are expected to transfer ownership of 91.5 million acres, or 10 percent of the land used for agriculture, as our aging population of farmers retire, the next generation takes the lead in managing and operating the family farm. The farmland succession planning process can be difficult to navigate for several reasons, including understanding the legal options and processes, building the right team of professionals, and navigating complicated family dynamics.
“Planning for the Future of Your Farmland,” the event hosted in September by American Farmland Trust and The Land Connection, aimed to address these concerns and equip Central Illinois farm families with the information needed to develop a succession plan successfully.
The evening began with a presentation from Brooke Didier Starks of Legacy Legal, a Champaign local with over 20 years of experience helping Midwest families with farmland succession planning. Brooke shared valuable insights on approaching the succession planning process, highlighted relevant considerations to make throughout, emphasized the incredible importance of open communication, and raised several common mistakes to avoid. Attendees had the opportunity to share challenges they’ve faced and raise concerns they’ve identified based on their experiences. Many families identified similar roadblocks, helping to debunk the misconception that families are all alone in their experiences and further showcasing the need for additional resources and services dedicated to supporting Central Illinois family’s plan for the future of their farmland.
Following a catered barbeque dinner from a local restaurant, Brooke Didier Starks led a panel discussion with three Champaign County farmers who shared their recent personal experiences with farmland succession. Steve Stierwalt, Eric Rademacher, and Darin Riggs offered their families’ stories of completing this process and shared advice on what worked well for their farm transition. Each of their situations was unique to their farm, family, and goals, emphasizing to the families in the audience that this process can and should look different for each family. Steve, Eric, and Darin underscored the importance of identifying a family’s shared goals early on in the process and using those goals to guide decision-making throughout the transition.
The event concluded with a presentation by Sangamon Conservancy Trust, a land trust that supports farm families in placing conservation easements on their land. Conservation easements are a tool farm families can use to ensure their land remains as farmland for perpetuity and is protected from potential development and conversion. Sangamon Conservancy Trust was founded in 2000 to support the goals of the Sangamon County Soil and Water Conservation District and has since protected over 25 farms using conservation easements in Sangamon, Menard, Logan, and Christian counties. Sangamon Conservancy Trust works primarily in these four counties but will consider other properties on a case-by-case basis. Their presentation highlighted the need for additional programs and organizations with the capacity to support farmland protection in other regions of Illinois, and many attendees expressed interest in having reliable access to these services in East Central Illinois.
Over 85% of the attendees felt “more inspired and confident” about moving forward with their family’s farm succession planning following the event. Attendees were empowered to identify concrete actions they planned to take, which included beginning to collect necessary documents and records, speaking with their lawyer, or initiating conversations with other members of their families. The event’s hosts intentionally emphasized that this process can be long and that all the solutions cannot and will not come as a result of one evening’s discussion. American Farmland Trust recognizes the need for continued engagement and remains committed to supporting Central Illinois farm families in planning for the future of their farmland.