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Demystifying Succession Planning for Organic Dairy Farms: The 24th Annual NODPA Field Days

September 26 & 27, 2024 Nichols Volunteer Fire Hall, 106 West River Road, Nichols, NY 13812

MK Dairy, LLC, Owego, NY

Farming is unique among professions. In most careers, a person reaches a time when they decide to retire and move on to the next phase of their life. Most farms in the Northeast are family owned and managed. Retiring from farming requires much more thought and planning. Is there someone whothat wants to take over managing the farm? Is that person a family member or trusted employee? Are they qualified to do so? What will my life be like if I ‘retire’? How will I know what I need, financially, to live out my life? Where will I live? These are just a few of the questions the retiring generation may be asking.

The generation taking up the responsibility of ownership and management are asking questions, too. Is the farm in a secure financial position to transition to my family? What will I need to earn in order to support my family and assume farm debt? If it’s a family member, they may be wondering what their relationship with their parents, siblings, and extended family will be, moving forward. How will the family react if we chose to change direction or employ different farming practices? Who can guide me through this complicated process so I don’t make any big mistakes?

Recognizing the complexity of succession planning and the critical state of organic dairy farming in the Northeast, NODPA is devoting the 24th Annual NODPA Field Days to demystify the whole process. Workshops will all be geared to hearing from professionals and the farmers who have worked with them on their farms’ transfer. Members of the Plain Community will discuss the opportunities and challenges of farm transfer in their community, and both tours will be at farms that have recently completed generational transfers.

MK Dairy, LLC, in Owego, NY will be the site of our Thursday morning farm tour. Join Madeline and Bruce Poole to tour their farm and learn about their experiences of taking over the operation of the dairy from Madeline’s family.

Following the tour at noon, we head over to the Nichols Volunteer Fire Hall for registration and a delicious lunch featuring Engelbert Family Farm’s organic ground beef. Following lunch, the educational program begins at 1:00 pm with NODPA’s Executive Director, Ed Maltby, setting the stage in his brief presentation, The State of the Organic Dairy Industry in the Northeast and the Importance of Succession Planning Now. This will be followed by Ted LeBow’s presentation, Where to Start? Farmers regularly hire Ted to assist them with the process of transferring their farms and his session will focus on the most important questions that need to be asked, and how to begin the process. Ted, the 23rd NODPA Field Days keynote speaker and well known to farmers throughout the US, is Co-CEO of Kitchen Table Consulting, Bala Cnwyd, PA.

Chris Anderson

Christopher Anderson, owner of Nordic GeoSolutions, Marathon, NY, has successfully shepherded farm families through the succession planning process and will describe the structure that he finds most helpful and how the process actually unfolds. Madeline Poole of MK Dairy, Owego, NY, who has transferred ownership from her parents, and Liz Bawden, Bawden Family Farms, Hammond, NY, who is in the beginning stages of the process, will each share their personal experiences. There will be plenty of time for questions.

Having the right team to assist farm families through this process may be the most important factor to success. In the Building Your Team workshop you will learn about the nuts and bolts of assembling a team of professionals to hire, when and why, and the costs to expect. This will include where to look for financial assistance, if it’s available. We are fortunate to have the following experts who will lead this discussion: Ted LeBow, Kitchen Table Consulting, Jen Miller, NOFA-VT Farmer Services Director, and Chris Anderson, Nordic GeoSolutions, LLC.

The late afternoon will be devoted to the Social Hour and Trade Show, giving everyone the opportunity to catch up with old friends, and to make new ones, as well as visiting our trade show vendors. We are so appreciative of their participation and support for the NODPA Field Days, and hope you all will take time to learn more about their organizations and products. The NODPA Annual Meeting and banquet follows.

After dinner, we will have a round table discussion featuring farm families that are in the midst of transferring their farms or have negotiated the process. There will be success stories, not-so-successful stories, and transfers that don’t involve families, and plenty of advice flowing. Everyone will have the opportunity to ask questions, share concerns, and, hopefully, leave feeling energized to take their own next steps.

Jen Miller

Friday morning begins early, with a continental breakfast at 6:30 am for those attending the Producer-Only meeting at 7:00 am. Breakfast will remain available until 9:00 am, at which time the morning’s first session starts.

It’s critically important to understand the farm’s finances and exactly how this information shapes the whole succession planning process. Jen Miller, NOFA-VT Farm Services Director and Sarah Flack, Sarah Flack Consulting, will lea

d the session on Demystifying the Financial Investigation: the nuts and bolts of your farm’s business analysis and what you will need to know and do. Both Jen and Sarah have extensive experience working with farmers on business analysis and “crunching the numbers”, so come prepared with lots of questions.

Sarah Flack

Our next session spotlights succession planning within the Plain Community. Nathan and Alex Weaver of Madison County, NY, and George Wright will share their insights and experiences, and Sarah Flack will be facilitating this session. Alex and Rita Weaver recently purchased Nathan and Kristine Weaver’s farm, while Nathan and Kristine, along with the remaining children at home, have moved to their new farm about 5 miles away. George and Linda Wright sold their farm in Hermon, NY to a Plain Community family, and will describe their successful non-family farm transfer done with great success.

Before we break for lunch, our last session features the Engelbert family. Their farm, now run by brothers Joe and John, will be the site of the afternoon farm tour. The Engelberts will give a preview to their farm and discuss their generational transfer experience.

We close with lunch and final announcements, then head over to the Engelbert’s farm, less than a mile down the road from our meeting site.

There will be much more information in the coming months, especially in the July NODPA News and online, www.nodpa.com. Information for sponsors and supporters, including trade show information will be going out by mid-May. If you’d like information beforehand, or if you have any other questions, please contact Nora Owens, NODPA Field Days Coordinator, at 413-772-0444 or at noraowens@comcast.net.

For now, mark your calendars and plan to join us for the 24th NODPA Field Days on Thursday and Friday, September 26th and 27th! Remember, it’s never too early to look for lodging if you are coming from a distance. You will receive better rates and have more options, too. There are hotels in Owego and surrounding communities, including the Tioga Downs Casino and Resort in Nichols, and there are a number of Air BnB’s in the area, too.