Improving Professional Capacity to Deliver Farm Succession Planning Assistance in New England

Progress report for ENE19-155

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2019: $101,021.00
Projected End Date: 10/31/2022
Grant Recipient: Land for Good
Region: Northeast
State: New Hampshire
Project Leader:
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Project Information

Performance Target:

80 service providers who participate in the project’s training opportunities will deliver improved and effective succession planning technical assistance and support to at least 320 transitioning farmers in New England.

Introduction:

Problem and Justification: To sustain New England’s agriculture, over 10,000 aging farmers must successfully transition their farms to a next-generation successor, whether family or unrelated, in the next decade. Thirty percent of operators are over age 65; far too few have adequate succession plans. Most farmers want and need help to pass on their farms and exit securely from active farming. Without adequate information and support, many farms will stop operating, further reducing the opportunities for next generation operators to acquire farmland or viable farm business opportunities.

Succession planning resources and educational events directed at farmers are widely available. However, training and networking for attorneys, financial experts and other farm service providers (SP) is scarce. As a regional leader on succession planning assistance, Land For Good (LFG) has seen that training farmers is not sufficient. They need skilled and knowledgeable professionals to help them complete a succession plan. Demand from SP indicates they need additional guidance and expertise to better assist transitioning farm families.

Solution and Approach: Farm succession planning is a complex, multi-component process. This is best approached with a coordinated team of professionals that includes an attorney, financial expert and other SP as needed. This project will strengthen the knowledge, skills and collaboration of a diverse group of professionals in New England who are currently – or would like to be – advising and guiding farm families in succession planning.

LFG will build on our twelve-year track record of professional training and network-building around succession planning – and our “team approach.” Our training methodology reflects our field-based understanding of what farmers and SP need. We will deliver an intensive 2-day, regional technical training to attorneys and financial experts (AFE) who have or desire specialties in farm succession. Next, we will conduct a training in each of the six New England states for a range of SP who play other succession advising and support roles in that state. These trainees will include Extension staff, non-profit agriculture service providers, farm link and land trust staff, tax accountants, mediators and private consultants. They will learn basic and technical material, and build “soft issues” awareness and skills. They will learn how to effectively support a farm succession planning process using a “team approach.” To apply training knowledge and skills – and to strengthen service relationships – trainees will receive six months of on-call mentoring from the Project Team (PT) and participate in three conference calls per state, coordinated by LFG’s staff. This will result in the coordinated support that is necessary for farm families to complete their succession plan.

Cooperators

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Educational Approach

Educational approach:

Our experience and research shape this plan. Service Providers perform different roles in succession planning; they do not need or want the same educational content. All need more knowledge, “soft” skills, and networking for effective farmer assistance. Individualized learning goals will motivate participants. Peer-to-peer learning is desirable and effective. A team approach is essential in succession advising. Succession advising “teams” are ad hoc and fluid; they are not formal structures.

We will recruit trainees for two trainings via email invitations and social media announcements to LFG’s service provider database, plus professional networks including the Farm Transfer Network of New England, Extension, USDA and state agencies, and conservation and attorney networks. The PT will assist in recruitment and outreach. Laurie Beyranevand, Director of Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at Vermont Law School, has committed student assistance in arranging Continuing Legal Education credits, which will aid in recruitment due to the additional benefit to trainees. Online registration will include collecting registrants’ baseline knowledge, learning objectives and project commitments in a learning contract.

With this input, the PT will develop a curriculum for a regional, two-day AFE technical training in November 2019. The content will center on the technical legal and financial components of succession plans such as entity selection, asset transfer methods, estate planning, tax considerations and Medicaid. Newer attorneys will be mentored by the more experienced. Experienced AFE will lead the peer-delivered curriculum, drawing on LFG’s . Materials from the 2019 training will be added to the Compendium and available for others to conduct similar trainings. The format will be a combination of presentations, small group case and problem-solving clinics, and round-table “best practice” discussions. We will go into the mechanics of the “team approach” such as confidentiality, coordination and communication protocols. 

Next, assisted by the trained AFE, the PT will organize and deliver one SP training in each state between February and June 2020. These one-day, cross-disciplinary trainings will focus on: succession planning basics; networking and team methods; soft skills (family communications, goal-setting, assessment); and case clinic practice.

SP need to build familiarity and trust with one another to be effective problem-solvers for farmers’ transition challenges. The state is an appropriate scale for this type of team function, although some SP cross state lines. Trainees will discuss how to identify client needs, find other providers, communicate disparate content, and problem solve with other providers. We’ll look at the mechanics of the planning process: how is it facilitated or coordinated and by whom? Whose “client” is it? How is a farm family best served by multiple providers, some of whom come in and out of the service “team”? Who needs to know what?

Between July 2020 and February 2021, we expect 80 trainees to apply their learnings with at least four farms each, and to record their actions and outcomes. They will receive “on-call” mentoring via email or phone from the PT and LFG staff.  Trainee peer-support conference calls will be held three times in each state coordinated by LFG staff. Trainees will present “cases” for group review, strategizing and support.

Milestones

Milestone #1 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Recruitment:
200 Service Providers will receive a project announcement with an enrollment invitation via email and social media. The target list will draw from LFG's database of 400+ SP in the region, plus professional networks including the Farm Transfer Network of New England, Extension, USDA and state agencies, and conservation and attorney networks. June 2019 for AFE; Jan 2020 for other SP.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
200
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
772
Proposed Completion Date:
January 31, 2020
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
December 21, 2020
Accomplishments:

Land For Good developed a blog post that was sent out in our fall 2020 enews blast, reaching over 1,000 individuals across New England. 

We also developed a webpage that explains the project in full detail. Professional Training Project Webpage – Land For Good

An email blast was sent in December 2020 to over 700 professionals across New England to share the project opportunity and offer registration.  Additionally, this was forwarded by staff and partners to specific individuals to invite.  Land for Good EMail Announcement – Farm succession advisors – Professional development opportunity!

Milestone #2 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Pre-training Engagement:
100 SP (40 AFE + 60 SP with other roles) will register for the project and complete a survey about their current expertise and learning objectives as a baseline measurement. Each will create a customized learning contract committing to full participation in trainings, post-training activities, and documenting post-training actions with farmers. July 2019 for AFE; February 2020 for other SP.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
100
Proposed Completion Date:
February 29, 2020
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

A pre-training survey and learning contract were created and implemented as a google form.  

In January 2021, participants who registered for our training program were sent their pre-work and a link to complete the pre-training survey and learning contract. 

We are currently in the process of collecting participants’ responses. We anticipate about 100 participants – we are still collecting some late registrants. 

Pre-training survey instructions to participants:

“If you haven’t already, please take 10-20 minutes to complete the pre-training survey and learning contract. The Pre-Survey will give the project planners some initial information about you, inform project design and help measure project outcomes. The purpose of the Learning Contract is to identify what you can expect from the project and to help you get the most out of your effort. As we are all coming from different places, participants will customize their own experience in the project. Completion of this form is an expectation of all project participants. Thanks for your help!” 

Milestone #3 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Learning:
40 AFE from six states will advance their respective expertise in a regional two-day, peer-to-peer AFE Technical Training focused on the legal, tax and financial issues related to farm transfer. Equally important, they will learn how to employ a multi-disciplinary, team approach. Fall 2019.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
40
Proposed Completion Date:
November 30, 2019
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

This milestone has been postponed until later in 2021. We hope to be able to convene this group in person and are assessing whether that feels possible for later in 2021 or consider how we can change this to a virtual training if necessary. 

Milestone #4 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

60 SP with other roles, e.g., Extension educators, consultants, mediators, conservation, farm link and farm organization staff, and lenders will acquire succession planning knowledge and skills and build peer relationships in one-day trainings held in each New England state. These cross-disciplinary trainings will cover essential subject content, as well as social dynamics and coordinated team approaches. Trainees will learn how to engage farmers and their families on succession planning and contribute to advising teams, resulting in improved succession outcomes for transitioning farmers. Spring 2020.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
60
Proposed Completion Date:
May 31, 2020
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

State trainings will take place via Zoom in January, 2021. Trainings will run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. with a one-hour lunch break and several stretch breaks. 

  • Maine:  January 14, 2021 – 20 people registered
  • New Hampshire:  January 19, 2021 – 10 people registered
  • Connecticut:  January 20, 2021 – 15 people registered
  • Vermont:  January 21, 2021 – 20 people registered
  • Massachusetts:  January 26, 2021 – 20 people registered
  • Rhode Island:  January 27, 2021 – 15 people registered

The following will be covered in these state trainings:

  • Succession planning components and process
  • Professional roles, responsibilities and tasks
  • Farm and family assessment
  • Team approaches to succession planning assistance
  • “Soft skills” such as communications, facilitation, and conflict management
  • Diversity and cultural differences
  • No identified successor; family v. unrelated transferees
  • Resources and referrals

An agenda and curriculum for the virtual training was developed. The same general outline is being used in each training with slight variations for state specifics. Land For Good staff will be the facilitators and instructors. Some project team and advisory committee members are joining.  Both the project team and advisory committee members reviewed the materials and provided feedback. 

A packet of materials was distributed by mail to all participants so they have the worksheets and readings to prepare for the training.  The packet includes:

Milestone #5 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Engagement to Support Action:
80 trainees (a mixture of AFE & other SP) will apply their learnings by directly advising farmers. To support this work, they will participate in conference calls (held every other month) with other trainees from their respective states to share experiences, trouble-shoot cases, identify additional resources/experts and gain peer support. July - December 2020.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
80
Proposed Completion Date:
December 31, 2020
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

This will begin after the state trainings have been completed.  It may not be as many participants as we originally anticipated due to the shift in project milestones necessary due to COVID.  Many of the attorney and financial/business advisors who we expected to be engaged in the project by this point will not be.  The participants in the state trainings offer a variety of support to farmers and likely will not offer as in-depth support or be able to reach as many farmers due to their work flow.   We will adapt the conference calls as appropriate to the needs identified by the state training participants. 

Milestone #6 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

50 trainees (a mixture of AFE & other SP) will request and receive telephone or email mentoring, guidance and support from project team (PT) members and Land for Good (LFG) staff as needed while working directly with farmers on succession planning. July 2020 - February 2021.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
50
Proposed Completion Date:
February 28, 2021
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

We will offer this after the state training is complete.  Again, this has shifted in timeline and potential number of participants who will need this support. We will likely offer again after the regional training is able to be held. 

Milestone #7 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Verification:
80 trainees who provide TA or support to at least 4 transitioning farmers each will document and report to the project team their role, actions and how they implemented the "team approach". They will also self-assess their improvement in assisting farmers. The PT will collect, collate and report on documentation from trainees to verify trainee actions and changes in January 2021.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
80
Proposed Completion Date:
January 31, 2021
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

Land For Good has a draft documenting tool for participants to use to track their work with farmers. 

We have also developed a short evaluation form which we’ll ask state training participants to complete when leaving that training, as well as a draft of a post-project survey which we’ll ask participants to complete at the end of the full project period or their involvement in it. 

 

Milestone Activities and Participation Summary

Educational activities and events conducted by the project team:

3 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
6 Online trainings
1 Published press articles, newsletters

Performance Target Outcomes

Performance Target Outcomes - Service Providers

Target #1

Target: number of service providers who will take action to educate/advise farmers:
80
Target: actions the service providers will take:

80 service providers who participate in the project’s training opportunities will deliver improved and effective succession planning technical assistance and support to 320 transitioning farmers in New England.

Target: number of farmers the service providers will educate/advise:
320

Performance Target Outcomes - Farmers

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.