A lot of people tell me that they want to be “debt free.” They are tired of making big interest payments on land, livestock, machinery and their operating note. They have had too many sleepless nights worrying about making the next payment. They believe that if they didn’t have to borrow money they would be more profitable and financially secure.  

Free Money Can Be Expensive

Letting government programs dictate your management and set priorities can be costly. The most obvious example is probably the emergency feed program. In drought impacted areas, this program incentivizes ranchers not to destock. The result has been severe overstocking during drought, when the impacts of bad management are intensified.

For decades we’ve been encouraged to evaluate the efficiency of production by focusing on weight weaned per cow. Now some are arguing that the critical measure should really be pounds weaned per acre. But neither measure is very useful.

jim and sally

How is the next generation ever supposed to step up if the current generation can’t step down or at least step aside? The short answer is they can’t. It’s one reason managerial authority on many ranches skips a generation. More calamitous, it’s a major reason why young people don’t stay in ranching and multi-generational ranches are disappearing.

There are two big pieces to the estate planning puzzle: who will run what (management succession) and who will own what (the transfer of assets). In my last ProfitTips column I called management succession the more difficult of the two because it involves judging the competency of people you love and holding them accountable to produce results. It is perceived by the incoming generation as an issue of respect. But the transfer of assets is no cake walk either.

Most people assume that the biggest estate planning fights involve “Who will own what?” It’s been my experience that “Who will run what?” is often a bigger issue. “Who will own what?” is usually a question of perceived fairness. To heirs, “Who will run what?” is a question of  respect.

University of Wyoming Extension agent and Ranching For Profit School instructor, Dallas Mount, recently led a management succession workshop in Baggs, Wyoming. Dallas is a gifted, innovative teacher, and I was flattered when he asked me to participate in the program.
Dallas did a great job of distilling successful succession into five core areas: