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Farmland Succession Planning

Updated: Jun 20

Photograph of a four-person family walking through a green field with text overlay 'Farmland Succession Planning'

A farmland succession plan ensures smooth transition of agricultural land and operations across generations. It covers financial stability, asset distribution, and preservation of the farm, providing clear directives to prevent conflicts and sustain the farm's legacy for future generations. The succession plan options for farmland include passing the property to heirs, selling the property, leasing the property, and engaging in partnerships. In this resource, we'll outline the importance of farmland succession planning and the various options that farmland owners have for monetizing their property to grow generational wealth while maintaining their legacy.

What is Farm Succession Planning?

A farmland succession plan is a comprehensive strategy devised to ensure the seamless transition of agricultural land and operations from one generation to the next. This plan addresses several key aspects, including the financial stability of the farm, the equitable distribution of assets among heirs who may inherit the farmland, and the preservation of the farming enterprise. By outlining clear directives for the transfer of ownership, management roles, and operational responsibilities, a farmland succession plan helps mitigate potential conflicts and uncertainties that can arise during the succession process. Ultimately, it aims to maintain the farm's legacy and sustainability for future generations.

The Importance of Farmland Succession Planning

A thriving family agricultural business is founded on robust planning and clear communication. Every farm, ranch, nursery, and dairy operation is more than just a business; it is a legacy. Therefore, every agricultural enterprise should have a well-defined succession and estate plan. Farmland connects us to family, tradition, and heritage, while also providing vital food, fiber, fuel, and myriad other benefits to society.

In the United States, there are approximately 911 million acres of farmland, with nearly 40% (371 million acres) owned by individuals nearing retirement. Yet, only 29% of these landowners have succession plans in place. Although discussing business succession and estate planning can be uncomfortable, such conversations and practical decisions are essential. They ensure that the farm continues to fulfill its vital roles for both your family and society, safeguarding your legacy for future generations.

How Do I Start Farmland Succession Planning?

Beginning the process of farmland succession planning involves several critical steps to ensure the seamless transition and continued success of your farmland or agricultural enterprise. First, initiate open and honest discussions with all stakeholders, including family members, heirs, and business partners, to identify their interests and concerns. This helps to establish clear goals and expectations for the future of the farm.

Next, gather comprehensive documentation of your farm's assets, liabilities, and operational details. Consult with professionals such as estate planners, attorneys, and financial advisors who specialize in agriculture to develop a customized plan that addresses legal, financial, and tax implications. Working with real estate land professionals with networks in the local community is recommended. Organizations such as GeoRanch can consult property owners on the highest and best use for their properties while assisting with the entire leasing or selling process.

It's also essential to create a timeline for the succession process, which should include mentorship and training for the next generation to ensure they are prepared to take on leadership roles. Regularly revisit and update the plan to accommodate changes in the family dynamics, market conditions, and legal frameworks, ensuring its relevance and effectiveness over time.

Options for Farmland Owners to Generate Revenue

Farmland owners have several options to generate revenue from their land, including traditional farming activities, leasing the land to other farmers or agribusinesses, and engaging in agritourism, such as offering farm tours, hosting events, or providing lodging. Additionally, farmland can be utilized for alternative energy projects like solar or wind farms, or conservation programs that offer financial incentives for maintaining natural habitats. Diversifying the use of farmland through these various strategies can maximize income while preserving the land's value and legacy for future generations.

1) Livestock Leasing

Livestock leasing is a practical option for farmland owners looking to generate consistent revenue without the full-time responsibility of managing a herd. By leasing land to livestock producers, owners can transform their idle land into a productive asset. This arrangement often involves a lease agreement wherein the terms of grazing rights, maintenance responsibilities, and rental payments are clearly outlined. However, there are various types of farmland leases, each of which are negotiable. Such leases provide stability for both parties—the landowner benefits from a reliable income stream, while the lessee gains access to quality grazing land, enhancing their operational capacity.

2) Agroforestry

Agroforestry integrates trees and shrubs into farmland, creating a synergistic relationship between agriculture and forestry practices. This approach can diversify income sources through the production of timber, fruits, nuts, and other forest products, while also enhancing biodiversity, reducing soil erosion, and improving water quality. By adopting agroforestry, farmers not only tap into new revenue streams but also contribute to sustainable farming practices that can increase the long-term productivity and health of their land. Agroforestry systems can vary from simple windbreaks and riparian buffers to more complex, multi-layered silvopasture systems that combine trees with livestock.

3) Agritourism

Agritourism allows farmland owners to open their doors to tourists, providing them with unique rural experiences. By offering farm tours, petting zoos, hayrides, corn mazes, and seasonal events, farmers can attract visitors eager to learn about agricultural life and enjoy outdoor activities. Agritourism not only boosts farm income but also fosters public awareness and appreciation of farming. This approach can create additional business opportunities, such as farm-to-table dining experiences, educational workshops, and even on-farm accommodations like bed and breakfasts, thereby expanding the reach and impact of the farm beyond traditional agricultural markets.

4) Carbon Credits

A carbon credit is a tradable asset, similar to a stock, that represents the removal or avoidance of one ton of carbon dioxide emissions. Quantifiable and verifiable activities that extract carbon from the atmosphere generate these credits so that landowners can sell carbon credits from their land. These credits can then be sold or transferred to companies or entities to offset their own carbon dioxide emissions. The restrictions on land use during carbon leasing will vary depending on the specific project, but some general limitations are common. For instance, forestry projects typically prohibit clear-cutting, land development, and harmful forest management practices.

5) Conservation Easements

A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement that permanently restricts certain uses of the land to safeguard its conservation values. Also referred to as a conservation restriction or agreement, it offers a way to preserve a property for future generations. If you're a landowner looking to balance land use with conservation, ensure your property's vision endures beyond your lifetime, and generate income from your land, consider establishing a conservation easement. These agreements can be tailored for general conservation purposes or specific objectives, such as protecting water sources or habitats for endangered species.

6) Specialty Crops

Specialty crops offer farmland owners a unique opportunity to diversify their income by growing high-value plants that are often in demand by niche markets. Examples of specialty crops include herbs, spices, medicinal plants, mushrooms, and exotic fruits or vegetables. Cultivating specialty crops can provide a higher return per acre than traditional row crops due to their market value and popularity among consumers seeking unique or health-related products. Implementing sustainable practices such as organic farming can further enhance the value of these crops, attracting eco-conscious buyers. Marketing directly to consumers through farmers' markets, community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs, or online sales can increase profitability and create a loyal customer base. By exploring specialty crops, landowners can capitalize on emerging trends and expand their farming operations into new, lucrative markets.

7) Hunting Leases

Leasing land for hunting is a popular way to generate revenue while maintaining ownership of your land. A hunting lease is a legally binding agreement between a landowner and a hunter or group of hunters, granting access to the property for hunting over a specified period. While all lease terms are negotiable, they typically outline the conditions of use, including the types of game permitted, the duration of the lease, and any specific rules or regulations set by the landowner.

8) Water Rights

Water rights refer to the legal entitlements held by landowners or entities to use, manage, and allocate water from a specific source for various purposes, such as irrigation, domestic use, industrial processes, or recreational activities. In regions where water scarcity is a concern, water rights can become a valuable asset, allowing landowners to sell or lease water rights to others in need of water resources. Proper management of water rights ensures that water usage is sustainable and equitable, balancing the needs of agricultural, residential, and ecological stakeholders. Navigating the complexities of water rights often requires an understanding of local regulations and environmental considerations, making it essential for landowners to consult with water resource experts or legal advisors. By effectively leveraging water rights, landowners can create an additional revenue stream while contributing to responsible water stewardship.

9) Renewable Energy Leasing

Leasing land for renewable energy projects is an increasingly attractive option for farmland owners seeking to make money on your land while promoting sustainable practices. Renewable energy leasing typically involves collaborating with energy companies for the installation and operation of assets such as solar panels, wind turbines, or biomass facilities on your property. These leases often span several decades, providing long-term revenue streams that can complement traditional agricultural income.

The terms of a renewable energy lease generally outline the responsibilities of both parties, including land use specifics, maintenance obligations, and compensation structures. Importantly, these projects can coexist with other land uses, such as grazing or certain types of crop production, without significant disruption. Landowners can capitalize on the growing demand for clean energy, making a positive environmental impact while ensuring financial stability. Additionally, integrating renewable energy infrastructure can potentially enhance the value of the property by showcasing its forward-thinking and sustainable practices. For those interested in exploring renewable energy leasing, it's beneficial to consult with experts to understand regulatory requirements, technological considerations, and negotiation tactics to secure favorable agreements.

How to Get Offers to Generate Revenue From Your Property

Overall, it is important that farmland owners consider working with a land professional when creating a succession plan for their property. A land professional can assist with determining a property's highest and best use along with the marketing of your property and negotiations with any offers that you receive.

A good start for exploring offers to generate revenue from your property without selling it is to create a listing on LandGate's marketplace. Listing is free, and there are no commissions or obligations to accept any offers. You can list your property for lease for recreation, agriculture, and renewable energy:


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