Across North Dakota, family farms and ranches are passing from one generation to the next, with younger members building upon foundations established by their forefathers many years ago.
Kjelgaard Simmentals Prepares for Succession
Located in McHenry, Kjelgaard Simmentals is a 5,000-acre grain farm and beef cattle ranch currently operated by father-and-son team Bruce and Michael Kjelgaard. Bruce Kjelgaard, whose parents began the operation in 1961, plans to hand over the reins to Michael once he is ready to retire in about six years.
However, he has already started relinquishing responsibilities, giving Michael control of the ranch’s 350 beef cow-calf pairs. The elder Kjelgaard still manages most of the grain farming, but he says Michael will eventually handle that aspect of the operation as well.
The duo is working with an AgCountry Farm Credit Services representative to plan their financial future, and Kjelgaard says he will continue to give Michael more responsibility and ownership so that he is fully prepared to manage Kjelgaard Simmentals when the time comes.
“You have to build confidence in these young people,” he explains. “It’s important to let them make decisions and do some things on their own so they can develop the skills and confidence they’ll need once they’re the boss. If you turn over everything all at once and they don’t know what they’re doing, you’re doing them a disservice.”
Kuhn Family Farm and Ranch Plans for Future
Another father-and-son operation preparing to transition ownership from one generation to the next is Jeff and Ben Kuhn, who operate a grain farm and beef cattle ranch together south of Dickinson.
While Jeff Kuhn handles most of the operation’s ranching responsibilities, his son, a fifth-generation farmer, manages the crops. Since getting heavily involved after graduating from North Dakota State University in 2007, Ben Kuhn says he has helped expand the variety of crops grown on the farm to include winter wheat, spring wheat, durum, sunflowers, corn, canola, flax, peas, lentils, alfalfa and more.
In addition, Ben Kuhn has helped his father implement several precision agriculture techniques to increase yield, such as zone mapping, and he’s worked to improve the quality of the farm’s soil by practicing residue management and strip-tillage.
Ben’s younger brother, Jaden, may eventually take on an ownership role with the farm and ranch and become Ben’s business partner, but for now, Ben is slowly preparing to take over the operation.
“I’m buying land from my dad gradually, and we’re working out the finances between us,” he says. “So far, it’s going really well and working out flawlessly. We are fortunate that our situation is pretty simple and my father and I work so well together, so we have not had to reach out for help at this point.”
Although the transition can be challenging, resources are available to help families like the Kjelgaards and Kuhns navigate the process with ease.
Russ Tweiten, vice president of agribusiness consulting and succession and retirement planning at AgCountry Farm Credit Services in Fargo, recommends families begin laying the groundwork for succession five to 10 years in advance.
He also says it is important for families to have defined goals, communicate clearly, determine the stakeholders, and ensure the farm or ranch can support an additional family member.
“There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to succession, because every farm is different,” Tweiten says. “Family dynamics, debt and many other elements come into play. We [at AgCountry Farm Credit Services] basically serve as quarterbacks, helping to manage the transition process and advising families on the best approach for their farm. We also keep in mind that even though farms and ranches are businesses, working in agriculture is a way of life. We help families manage the emotions associated with succession, too.”