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Saving The Family Ranch

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Many in the next generation of ranchers are pursuing careers in urban areas, while many ranchers are selling their family business. Who will be the next food producers?

Every family ranch has a unique story. Some have been in the family for generations, while others are just getting started. Some have grown into sprawling corporations, diversifying with cattle, crops and kids. Other families maintain modest-sized businesses, direct-marketing their products to customers in town. Some families have children who can’t wait to get away, while others maintain an active interest, settling down to raise kids on the ground they, too, grew up on.

Whatever your story is, farm and ranch life certainly has its fair share of challenges -- family dynamics, land and input prices, health issues or a death, preparation for succession, government regulation and global economics, to name a few.

Although I’m a planner and would like to have a crystal ball tell me exactly how things will pan out in my own family operation down the road, I can only work hard, save my pennies and have faith that things will work out the way we hope they will.

I recently saw an article in the Denver Post by Kerry Brophy-Lloyd, a writer who shared her thoughts on what it was like to say goodbye to the family ranch she grew up on in Colorado. The piece struck a chord in me, and I was reminded of a statistic I came across a few years ago -- that two-thirds of family ranches don't make it past the second generation.

Does your family have a plan for the future? Are you currently going through transition or having to sell? Are your kids interested in ranching in the future? Who will be the future food producers for the next generation? Ponder these questions as you read this excerpt from the article; then share your thoughts in the comments section below.

“Memories are all I have left; my family sold our ranch when I was in high school. And this is not just my experience. Every day, other kids in the West have to say goodbye to the family ranch. It's a separation much like losing a loved one or having the roots that once grounded you yanked up.

“These days, keeping a ranch going is a lot more difficult than working one, and that's saying a lot, because to my mind, nothing's harder than ranch work. Eventually, many cash-strapped landowners struggling to make ends meet have little choice but to sell. Faced with daunting property taxes, escalating debt and the prospect of never getting out with your boots still on, the decision almost becomes easy. A ranch sale means retirement money, send-your-kids-to college money.

“What's left behind when the ranch sells? In the West, it's often residential subdivisions split into 10-, 20- or 40-acre parcels. Gone forever is the family ranch, along with a lot of the wildlife habitat and open space that benefit all of us.”

How do we keep the ranching tradition alive, despite the obstacles?

Read the entire article here.

Discuss this Blog Entry 4

on Mar 20, 2012

Great question, and a nice emotional article. Although a challenge there are ways to pass both farms and ranches to the next generation. We are a 3 generation ranching family and working on our plans for number 4. My comment is that while the emotion is important, and talking about our passions helps start the conversation - Ranching is a business and succession planning is a well documented and planned event. Ranches with positive cash flow, gifting plans and good corporate and family governance can succeed. Yes, I too love nothing more than standing in a fresh cut hay meadow, but I have also love tax codes, understanding family limited partnerships and the income statement. Let's use our passion to talk about business not wax about history.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 21, 2012

I have sons and grandkids who want to come to the farm but the oldest on is still 30 years away from retiring from his income - earning career. That's the problem.

Terry Church (not verified)
on Mar 21, 2012

A few years ago I was reading an article about family farms. The article was written about the decline of family farms in the US due to high land values. One paragraph I read stated this:
The first generation spent their lives working and paying for the farm. The next generation spent their lives working the farm. The
third generation sells it off.
I hope that this is not a trent. Sometimes one does not realize the value of something until its gone. I've heard about people who spent their lives wanting to get off the farm and did leave the farm. Then years later they wished they were back on the farm, but it was to late.
Life on a farm or ranch may be hard, but alot of things in life are hard. I believe the greatest lessons in life can come from being reared and living on a farm or ranch. Values, Teamwork, Conservation, and Live in general are things that can be learned living on a farm or ranch. I hope people will and can see the value of the Family Farm or Ranch and preserve it for future generations. PRICELESS!

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 18, 2014

I lived on my grandparents (my moms parents) ranch for almost 4 years. I took me out of town and put me in a really great place. I leanred a lot from my Grandfather and helped him on the beef ranch. My Grandfather had 4 kids and I knew i didnt have any claim to anything on that ranch. So after graduating from Highschool i went directly into the service. My grandparents past away just before i finished my 20 year career in the service. I always loved that ranch. My Grandmother di8d the only thing she could really do and split the ranch 4 ways. None of the kids have an interest in it. They put it up for sale and its financially out of my reach. I would work that ranch given the opportunity. Its the last of any significant property our family has. It's so sad to see it go.

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BEEF Daily Blog is produced by rancher Amanda Radke, one of the U.S. beef industry’s top social media “agvocates.”

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Amanda Radke

A fifth-generation rancher from Mitchell, SD, Amanda grew up on a purebred Limousin cattle operation in which she and husband Tyler are active. She graduated with a degree in agriculture journalism...

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