Building the Legacy- Heartache and Triumphs from Transitioning Ranch Families

Final report for ONC19-060

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2019: $33,781.00
Projected End Date: 02/29/2020
Grant Recipient: Nebraska Grazing Lands Coalition
Region: North Central
State: Nebraska
Project Coordinator:
Bethany Johnston
Nebraska Grazing Lands Coalition
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Project Information


The trend continues- the average age of ranchers increased, the landowning generation passed over land at high rates, and the number of beginning ranchers dwindled in Nebraska.  The highest production ranch or the ranch in the best financial shape, is only secondary to generational transfer. Nothing is more important to sustainability than transfer, especially if the ranch is split up and sold.  A group of ranchers wanted to reverse the trend, and started sharing their personal stories about transition.  Instead of field or livestock tours, the ranchers invited participants into their sorrows, emotions, and triumphs of transition.  The Nebraska Grazing Lands Coalition (NGLC) found success in their generational transfer meetings held across Nebraska with a producer panel and experienced agriculture estate planning attorney.  Participants learned from the producer panel’s experiences, asked legal and transition questions, and left with hope and renewed desire to finish their transitional plan.  With support, the NGLC plans to continue hosting generational transfer meetings, as well as one-on-one follow-up support through a newly hired ranch task manager.  The task manager will consult with individual families to guide and refer them through landmines and roadblocks that occur in communication, legal, and financial aspects.

Project Objectives:

Generation transition workshops will be hosted in conjunction with the NGLC Summer Grazing Tour and in the fall/winter months.  A producer panel will give on-farm “tours” of their personal, family, and business struggles and triumphs of succession.  An experienced estate planning attorney will explain helpful legal tools for successful transfer.  Participants can ask questions from the producer(s) sharing their story, or ask legal questions of the attorney.  Farms or ranches can follow up with the ranch transition task manager, who will guide and facilitate the families closely through their succession plan, with the ultimate goal of a completed succession plan.


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  • Pamela Olsen (Educator)


Involves research:
Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

15 Consultations
5 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

146 Farmers participated
5 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

The Nebraska Grazing Lands Coalition (NGLC), Nebraska Extension, SARE, producers serving on the panel, and an estate planning attorney (Pamela Olsen) collaborated to bring 5 Generational Transition Workshops to Nebraska, impacting 151 participants.

One participant stated “Pamela and the panel were very helpful and unlike any ranch transition workshop I’ve attended.  Good job!

As well as hosting workshops, the NGLC Ranch Transition Task Manager also authored and published weekly articles on the NGLC Generational Transition website and Facebook page.  Approximately 5 articles were written about the Generational Transition workshops and the Task Manager's role.  The Task Manager also authored several articles published by cattlemen and ag media.  The Task Manager presented about transition to beefSD (n=30) and at the Range Beef Cow Symposium (n=490).



Learning Outcomes

151 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Key changes:
  • 100% agreed or strongly agreed an increased knowledge of legal tools to help with transition.

  • 100% agreed or strongly agreed they learned from the personal experiences of the producer panel.

  • Of the participants, 74% owned land, 15% were the next generation successor, 2% were off-farm heirs, and 9% were other or a combination.

  • Of those completing evaluations, over 907,085 acres were impacted due to ownership, leasing, or management.

  • 19% had not started their transition plan, 30% had started, 18% were halfway done, and 23% were nearly done. Only 10% were complete with their transition and estate plan, indicating a continued push to assist producers to complete their plans.

  • 98% were "likely" to "very likely" to start or continue work on their transition and estate plan.

  • Following the workshop, 98% of participants indicated they had access to the resources to complete their farm or ranch transition plan.

Project Outcomes

146 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
2 Grants received that built upon this project
15 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

98% of participants surveyed indicated they had the necessary resources to complete their farm/ranch transition plan.

100% were likely or very likely to start or continue work on their transition plan.

Fifteen families received follow-up with the NGLC Task Manager.  One family updated their wills after their son returned to the farm.  One family is in the process of transferring ownership to a non-family successor, and utilizing resources from the Task Manager and Nebraska Rural Response Hotline Legal & Financial Aid clinics.

Success stories:

A crops and cattle farm revised their will, as their son had returned to farm.  The family attended a Generational Transition workshop, worked with the NGLC Task Manager, utilized the free legal & financial aid clinics, worked with their lawyer to update their will, and 7 months after attending the workshop, had a new plan in place that allowed for the farm to transition to their son.  Without a new plan, the old wills would have sold and split up the farm, as no successor was included in the old documents.

After each Generational Transition workshop, participants indicated the benefit of hearing from other producers about what worked and did not work in their farm or ranch transition.  Also included in the workshops, is Pam Olsen, an experience agricultural and estate planning attorney, who understands the "value of the dirt," the legacy behind it, and that transition takes communication and good legal counsel.  We always receive complements on Pam's presentation.

The NGLC Task Manager continues to work with families working through the transition process.


2019 has been a hard financial year for many farmers and ranchers.  Extreme weather conditions throughout the year have also stressed, delayed, and impaired producers.  Our numbers were lower than we expected, but Mother Nature and cash flow has hindered many producers to seek help to complete their transition plan.  I foresee more producers utilizing the resources provided by the NGLC, as awareness is raised.

Information Products

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.