Bringing Farmland Conservation-Based Estate Planning to Agricultural Professionals

Final Report for ENC02-064

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2002: $83,314.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2005
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Julia Freedgood
American Farmland Trust
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Project Information


Several significant causes of farmland loss are aging farmers with no heirs to take over operations, young farmers who cannot afford to purchase a farm, and farmers who do not have the information needed to make informed decisions regarding land protection options. Agricultural professionals often do not have the necessary information and training to assist landowners. To address this problem, American Farmland Trust (AFT) convened a group of key agricultural, conservation and financial professionals to train them in conservation-based estate planning so that they could more effectively advise their clients, particularly agricultural professionals, farmers and landowners.

Project Objectives:

1. Educate agricultural professionals on current, conservation-based retirement, farm transfer and estate planning concepts;
2. Educate agricultural and conservation professionals on how to profile farmland owners who might benefit from these options;
3. Educate conservation, legal and financial advisors on how to effectively convey conservation-based estate planning and farm transfer information to farmland owners and professional colleagues;
4. Evaluate this project as a model for implementation nationwide.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Outcomes and impacts:

Prior to the September roundtable, AFT surveyed the Illinois participants to assess their comfort level with topics covered in the preceding workshop. Of the eight participants who responded to the survey, 88 percent indicated that they were comfortable or very comfortable with their understanding of the importance of estate planning. Only 33 percent, however, were comfortable or very comfortable with their understanding of estate planning tools, such as traditional farm transfer and tax reduction strategies, and with talking with landowners and other professionals about estate planning and farm transfer concepts.

Based on these responses, we decided to briefly cover the general conservation-based estate planning concepts and material covered in the previous workshop, then open the roundtable to discussion.

Participants (8): Two people from Extension, two people from land trusts, one attorney, one person from a farm organization, one financial planner, and one from NRCS.

Outcomes: Sentiments at the roundtable included:
-“I have tried to give the conservation-based estate planning presentation that Jerry Cosgrove had given and felt unqualified to present on either the conservation, the legal or the financial aspect of the presentation.”
-“We are learning about tax benefits of selling agricultural conservation easements, but there is no money in Illinois for easements!
-Kane County has a purchase of agricultural conservation easements (PACE) program that seems to be working. Let’s plant the seeds in other people’s heads for more PACE programs!

Based on these sentiments, the roundtable group agreed that a desired next step would be to take what they had learned to a new audience. The roundtable participants would play a more active role in planning the workshop and sharing their knowledge at the workshop, and AFT would fill in the gaps where participants feel that they lack the expertise. The roundtable participants plan to hold a countywide workshop for landowners and local officials on conservation options for landowners and what estate planning tools are available for landowners. The participants hope to hold the workshop this spring. In the context of the training series, a workshop of this nature was one of the original goals and desired outcomes!

In the end, the group seemed more interested in how to increase the number of conservation-based estate planning tools, especially PACE, and wanted AFT to help start PACE programs in the state.

We worked with the Minnesota group to launch a one-day workshop on conservation-based estate planning in St. Cloud. The Minnesota group developed an invitee list and reached out to a larger audience, including real estate appraisers. AFT and the Minnesota group worked together to develop curriculum for a group that may not be as familiar with landowner conservation options, including conservation easements and prepared resources for the Minnesota participants.

Participants (29): Eleven from land trusts, three Extension personnel, three from county or local planning commissions, three from soil and water conservation districts (SWCDs), two representing the military, one attorney, one farmer, one real estate appraiser, and one from the United States Department of Fish and Wildlife Services.

Outcomes: We evaluated the participants following the training. Of the 11 evaluations we received, all reported that the workshop increased their understanding of conservation-based estate planning, and all reported they felt prepared to provide follow-up technical assistance based on the training. They all also indicated being better prepared to deal with family issues than they had before the training.

Participants identified 12 ways to educate others about the information that they had learned in the workshop. This included increased outreach to landowners and developers, articles in state newsletters, educating co-workers about conservation-based estate planning, developing a fact sheet, holding an information session, presenting the information to local estate planning professionals, incorporating conservation-based estate planning into client real estate plans, and creating a training for SWCD professionals.

Overall Progress Towards Outcomes to Date:
AFT convened these groups of key agricultural, conservation and financial professionals to help them become better prepared to advise their clients, particularly agricultural professionals, farmers and landowners, in conservation-based estate planning. Based on the evaluations, it appears that this was achieved in Illinois and Minnesota. In the past two years, we have directly trained 11 professionals in Illinois have reached out and attempted to educate their peers about the importance and specific tools for conservation-based estate planning and they are looking forward to receiving assistance on how to better prepare and educate more peers.

Farmland is most vulnerable when it passes from one generation to the next. As Extension and other agricultural advisors expand their knowledge of conservation options in farm transfer and estate planning, they can give farmers estate planning options, such as: alternatives to selling their land to avoid estate taxes, divide assets amongst heirs or sell it at an affordable price to an entering farmer. AFT looks forward to providing additional training and technical assistance by helping members of the Illinois group feel fully prepared to help farmers and other clients pursue conservation-based options in estate planning and farm transfer.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

March 2004 - May 2004
AFT continued to work with the state collaborators to assess the training needs for each state. After contacting each of the state collaborators to explore the possibility of reconvening the previous year's workshop participants for follow-up training, we proposed the following:
1. Survey the participants and find out:
a. If they have used the knowledge they gained and materials provided;
b. If so, how; and
c. Whether they provided any training or technical assistance to peers.
2. Hold a follow-up roundtable seminar to foster dialogue between participants about what their follow-up training experiences were and to answer any technical questions to improve their ability to deliver trainings in the future;
3. Based on survey responses and seminar discussions, provide ongoing technical assistance to help participants continue to work with clients on farm transfer and conservation based estate planning.

The Illinois group was interested in following-up with the roundtable as proposed. The Minnesota group decided that it would like technical assistance in planning a one-day workshop for a new, larger audience. The Iowa group was not interested in follow-up training.

June 2004 - August 2004
AFT organized:
-The roundtable for the Illinois participants. We first surveyed the Illinois cohort to understand their comfort level on the technical aspects of conservation-based estate planning, learn what trainings they had done in the past year, and learn what educational materials may be helpful to them. We worked with the participants to develop the roundtable agenda and support materials. (PowerPoint slides, agendas and a list of educational materials distributed at those meetings will be included with the final report.)
-A workshop for the Minnesota group and worked with the group to develop an invitee list that included Extension, SWCD, estate planning personnel and agricultural appraisers, sent out invitations, developed the curriculum and prepared the program and support materials. (PowerPoint slides, agendas and a list of educational materials distributed at this meeting will be included with the final report.)

September 2004
The roundtable for Illinois was held in DeKalb on September 2 and the workshop for Minnesota was held in St. Cloud on September 23.
The roundtable participants shared difficulties in training others about conservation-based estate planning, mostly due to individual limitations in specific expertise, and the group decided that the best step would be to work together and run a workshop with AFT's technical support, when needed.

The Minnesota group all felt that they gained new knowledge about conservation-based estate planning that they can use to educate co-workers and peer professionals.

October 2004 - December 2004
AFT and core group members provided technical assistance to workshop participants in Minnesota by providing additional resources and answering questions. The Illinois participants have begun planning for a cohort-run workshop to be held in the spring of 2005.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.