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Farmer mentoring program makes COVID comeback

Slideshow: Young farmers and Master Farmers were finally able to gather again to resume their Cultivating Master Farmers program — and they talked succession planning.

After two years, the Cultivating Master Farmers Class of 2023 recently gathered again — this time for a day-long session on estate planning.

“It did my heart good to see this group of farmers back in the same room together,” says Jenny Webb, Illinois Farm Bureau and CMF coordinating committee member. “It’s hard to beat the exchange of ideas when you get different generations of farmers together in one place to share their experiences — and their hopes and dreams.”

Cultivating Master Farmers is a two-year mentor program for a select group of Illinois young farmers and Prairie Farmer Master Farmers. This class began their CMF journey during the summer of 2019 and was supposed to graduate in summer 2021. However, given that so much of the program’s value is from face-to-face gatherings and conversations, organizers extended the program through 2023. The upshot? This class is just getting started.

The group met on Jan. 27 at the new Compeer Financial offices on the east side of Bloomington, Ill., and heard from Shannon Ferrell, a professor of ag economics at Oklahoma State University and an expert on farm succession and estate planning.

Ferrell shared that in his Oklahoma ranch family’s story, he was the “city kid” who went off to get a law degree and teach at the university. His brother was the “farm kid” who always wanted to run the ranch. And then his brother was killed in an accident on the ranch, and just like that, their family had to sort through a pile of unintended consequences. And Ferrell got a crash course on what to do (and what not to do) in planning an estate.

He listed these crucial estate planning tools:

Guardian nomination for minors. This says who gets custody of the kids if something happens to the parents.

Beneficiary designation. This document says, “This stuff goes to these people.” It’s not handled by your will or your trust, and it needs to be current. Ferrell quipped, “If you’ve been divorced, you need to update it, or real awkward stuff will happen when you die.”

Durable powers of attorney. This covers business and health care.

Advanced directive for health care. Also known as a living will, this covers what you want done in end-of-life care.

Will. “No matter who you are or how awesome your trust is, you still need a will,” he said.

Other items that aren’t exactly crucial but may come in handy include:

Life insurance. “The people who need it most are the people who don’t think of it,” Ferrell said.

Long-term care insurance. Ferrell called this the most glaring hole in agriculture. “I talk to people all the time who want to know how to keep the government from taking their home if they have to go to the home. But they don’t have long-term care insurance,” he said.

The CMF Class of 2023 will meet again later in February to follow up on their conversations regarding estate plans and to share their personal succession plan stories. CMF is sponsored by Growmark, Illinois Farm Bureau, Bayer, Compeer Financial, Farm Credit Illinois and Prairie Farmer.

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