Farm Succession Planning, Learning from Experience

A CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOCK By Kevin Spafford; Legacy by Design The Legacy [Farm Succession] Project has brought me face-to-face with some of the greatest ag leaders and trendsetters of our time. Gregg Halverson, of Black Gold (premier potato grower in Grand Forks, N.D.), is a fitting example. Through a series of conversations over a couple of days, I had the privilege to learn a bit about Gregg and the motivation behind Black Gold. Following are a few excerpts from those conversations. Kevin: Gregg, how do you define success? Gregg: There are many different definitions for success… Number one, leaving the planet in a little better shape than it was when I came in. Number two, I’ve got three examples – John, Eric, and Leah – my three kids… If I can help them to be good citizens, good stewards and, of course a dad’s dream is always to have the kids follow in his footsteps. Kevin: Do you have a professional development plan yourself? Gregg: Yes, and a succession plan, which we work on annually---it’s a plan that evolves. Every year we meet and we talk about it, there’s always something that changes---and I think change is good. We like to think we’re immortal until something happens. Things change, the industry changes, our families change. There are all kinds of dynamics at work, and that’s all good. We have to be smart stewards and adjust our plans accordingly. Kevin: Is biggest always best? Gregg: Oh, no. Biggest is not always best, for a lot of reasons. I think it’s important to have a plan of where you’re going; efficiency is much more important than size. Our model is one economists would call a replication strategy. We have chosen to be as efficient as we can be in given areas within our industry. And it’s interesting because there was a time when we were confused about bigness. How is bigness measured? Is it acres or number of farms or states we farm in or gross income or employees…? Based on that, we decided it’s about efficiency and serving the customer. That’s much more important than size. Kevin: What advice would you give a young aspiring agripreneur? Gregg: The advice that I would give a young aspiring ag entrepreneur would be to come to work for Black Gold. ‘Cause I’d try to hire ‘em. Really, if it were an individual that would work in our system, I would try to hire him or her. On the other hand, if I couldn’t hire him, if he had some other opportunities and things he or she wanted to do, I would say, first get an education. I would say work hard, there’s nothing else like hard work to earn the respect of others--which gives you leadership opportunities and so forth News Resources for You Young producers are optimistic about the future and their leadership roles on the farm. Watch the 'Leave a Legacy' TV episode featuring Gregg Halverson and Black Gold (November 2010) What about your family – are you Ready for Succession?

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