I brought Glenfiddich but they offered Laphroaig. I’ll chat about land with either brand of scotch in my hand, but if put to a fight, the smoky and absolutely delicious Laphroaig wins every time I’m not buying. I put up nominal resistance, saying something awkward and barely intelligible about how they shouldn’t waste their good stuff on me. We barely knew each other. But that was three hours ago. We lost track of time.
August 16 began as most days do: with some fear-laden thoughts about where this succession plan is at, a thought or two about how long we’ll be living in this mobile home, and some loathing over why the farmland gods haven’t answered my reasonable request for acres to come for sale at an affordable rate within a few miles of my yard. It was a Sunday and we were expecting company.
“It’s pasture right now,” said our guest, “but he wants to convert it back into crop land, and possibly put it up for sale. I said, ‘Hey, you should talk to Toban. He farms in the area. Maybe you two could do something together.’”
We hopped in my truck and drove to the piece he was talking about. I was excited. Desperately so. If you’re a farmer, there’s a good chance you’re looking to expand, and there’s a good chance you can appreciate what even the weakest whisper of more land stirs on the inside.
Suddenly, I felt in competition with every farmer around me, as if I was the only one to see that block of land start to flicker on the map, and I had only a small amount of time to take the lead before someone would come up from behind and take me out on a bidding war.
Farming is a stoic and sentimental industry requiring its members to make sober decisions yet asking of the same membership to care that current land prices might make it hard for young farmers — of which I am allegedly one (at 35) — to get into the business. It’s this tense contrast, in part, that fuels our anger that foreign investors are coming in and buying up all the land at exorbitant prices, if in fact that’s who’s buying the land. It may as well be the boogeyman, in some areas. Only a scarcity of people knows who can afford the few acres that do come up for sale.
For those able to do so, the trick at this stage during a potential opportunity is to temper the excitement, calming it to a manageable and rational level, and with the calculating precision of a businessperson, begin exploring the financing options available, which, for someone like me, whose previous career was not padded with assets worth more than a laptop and an old camera, are limited.
To say that succession plans are an emotional roller-coaster is misleading. It presumes you have one. And I think many people don’t. It feels formidably strange that just by living nearby, expressing interest, and helping out I am entitled to a piece of what I had little part in building. This emotion, this feeling of unworthiness or whatever you want to call it, makes it hard to communicate honest goals and expectations.
And, like any career change, you do what you can, trusting that whatever whirlwind of a learning curve you’re swirling around in, you’ll land on your feet and further ahead than where you started. You wait, hoping that the community you live in doesn’t think you’re too strange; that farmers thinking of selling would have mercy on you, even if they don’t share your love for Laphroaig.
This potential opportunity could be that. This could be me landing on my feet, running, investing in land that a few years from now might allow me to buy into the family farm in a substantial and convincing way, bringing into focus my own goals and expectations.
I brought this up with an accountant, casually over coffee. He agreed, and added, “The hardest part of any succession plan is getting each party to be honest about what they need and want from the farm.”
In the three years we’ve been on the farm, my wife and I have had some serious chats about the future. We’ve doubted the move at times. We’ve felt restless and frustrated. But these things are normal. It’s okay to patiently wallow in the darker unknown places for a while. Things don’t always work out. To say otherwise is Kool-Aid. But, often, clarity is around the corner and it comes in spurts. Take it when it comes.
I like independence. Most do. We like our movements in this world to be our own, whether as a farmer or writer or whatever it is you do. I’m a few days from harvesting my very first crop of soybeans, and whatever comes of this possible new venture, I’ve made a genuine connection with a fellow farmer and scotch lover.