Younger generation of farmers spurs new Iowa Farm Bureau position


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Jake Swenka will join the U.S. Navy after he graduates from high school in the spring, but he knows he will eventually become a leader on the family farm.

“I’m going to finish out my life here,” the 17-year-old said. “I will come back here and continue the family tradition.”

It is young people like Swenka who prompted the creation of a new job position at the Iowa Farm Bureau — Farm Business Development manager — to help farm families create succession and transition plans to pass down their estate.

“It was answering a direction demand from the 154,000 Farm Bureau member families,” Nathan Katzer, the new farm business development manager, said.

Katzer said he will help families work through the legal and technical aspects of creating succession plans. Because every family has different needs, he said, he plans to help them in different ways. The majority of farmers in America are in the 45-64 age bracket, and as that group grows older, succession plans have become increasingly important.

According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, from 2002 to 2007, there was a 13 percent increase in the number of farmers in the 45-64 age bracket.

“Member families requested help and resources from the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation in the areas of succession planning and farm business development,” he said. “The Farm Bureau has responded with this position.”

Steve Swenka, Jake Swenka’s father, said he thinks it has become more economical for younger generations to take an interest in family farming.

“The kids get out of college, and it’s hard to find jobs,” he said. “I think a lot of these young folks are finding there are opportunities for them back on the family farm.”

Steve Swenka also said succession is important because someone has to fulfill the position after the older generations are gone.

“Obviously, the older generation isn’t going to be around forever,” he said. “That’s why it’s very important for the country as a whole that this succession does take place. Who’s going to pick up the torch and who’s going to feed the people of this country 10 to 15 years down the road? I really think it’s in everybody’s interest that the young generation take over.”

Local farmer Darrick Chadima said the new Farm Bureau position will be helpful for farmers looking to make transition plans because it can be a complex process.

“There are laws, and there are regulations that you have to follow in order to have something left to be able to hand down,” he said. “This is something that happens to a farmer once in their lifetime. It’s not something we deal with every single day. You need to have someone who has their fingers in it at all times so you understand what the new regulations are and the protocol to hand the farm off to the next generation.”

Chadima said he took over the management of his family farm from his parents and the succession plans his parents had in place have helped make that transition smooth.

“It’s a lot easier for a farm family to discuss how this will all happen before it actually has to happen,” he said. “It allows the whole family to be on the same page. A lot of times when those plans are done at the last minute, you get a lot of people who just aren’t happy.”

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