Managing for Today and Tomorrow: Transition Planning for Farm and Ranch Women

Women in Agriculture October 29, 2014 Print Friendly and PDF


By: Morgan Ball,


Deb Kinney and Jenny Hemingway are two women who are contemplating the future of their family farms. To help them think though their options, they completed a five session course offered by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. The course, Managing for Today and Tomorrow, is designed for women of all ages and experience levels who are taking an active role in farm transition planning.  The course introduces women to the four key planning tasks that must be accomplished to transition a farm to the next generation. Throughout the course, women gain an understanding of how business, estate, retirement and succession planning work together to create an overall transition plan.

Deb Kinney from Oxford, Iowa lives on a midsize beef cattle and crop farm with her husband, Kevin. They both have full time jobs off the farm. Kinney works for the Johnson County USDA Farm Service Agency and Kevin is a deputy for Johnson County. One day a couple of years ago, two deputies showed up to talk to Kinney at her USDA office. Her heart sank as they informed her Kevin had been in an anhydrous accident while working in their fields. As the moments ticked away during the six days Kevin was on life support, worries about managing the farm business crept into Deb’s thoughts. “The accident was a real wake-up call,” Kinney said. As Kevin recovered, the couple began discussing the future of their farm.

Kinney and her husband are at a crossroad. The couple is in their 50’s now and Kevin is currently running for the Iowa senate. Both of their children are content with their careers and communities away from the family farm. “Kevin really enjoys having the farm and he will continue to farm as his time allows…he loves every spec of soil on this farm,” shared Kinney.  But she voiced many concerns and questions, “Is there someone to take over the farm, will we rent out the land, will we hire workers, and what happens after the elections?”

Decisions will need to be made after November’s elections. “My husband is very busy campaigning,” says Kinney, “right now we have hired our nephew to help work on the farm and to help ease some of the stress.” The couple is considering whether or not to transition management of the farm business to their nephew, and if so, how and when this might occur.

Kinney participated in the Managing for Today and Tomorrow course to learn more about transitioning the farm business. She used the resources and guidance from the class to identify key decisions and began writing down the plans she and her husband were making. “Having things in writing and communicating with family members is very important,” stated Kinney, “Managing for Today and Tomorrow was well worth my time and very worthwhile.” 

Jenny Hemingway from Iowa City, Iowa participated in the same Managing for Today and Tomorrow course. Like Kinney, Hemingway also wants to ensure a smooth farm transition.  Hemingway and her husband, Ben, own a midsize corn and soybean farm. In addition, they are partners in a farm business with Ben’s family. Jenny and Ben both have jobs off the farm as well. Jenny and Ben work for Trebron, a welding shop. Having good health insurance through their work, is important to both Jenny and her husband.  

Something else the couple agrees on, is they would eventually like to transition their farm to beginning farmers. “My husband and I do not have any kids, but we want to leave the farm to young farmers. We would like our land to stay a farm enterprise,” said Hemingway. Although she and her husband are in their late thirties, and consider themselves mid-career in their farming business, they know it’s important to document those wishes. While Jenny and her husband have not identified a beginning farmer to work with, they are confident the legal plans they put into place will assure their farm goes to a beginner. “You’ve worked hard for it [your farm] and you should know where you want it to go when you’re not here,” said Hemingway.

Hemingway enjoys working alongside her husband in the farm business. This time of year, she can be found in line at the local grain elevator, waiting her turn to unload the corn or soybeans she planted last spring.

Yet, Hemingway knows in rural Iowa, women are not always thought of as equals in the farm business. “If something happens to my husband I want to be prepared, I do not want to be taken advantage of because we did not have a plan,” said Hemingway. The Managing for Today and Tomorrow course taught her to network and discuss both the business and life-style aspects of farming with other women in agriculture. “I would talk to my neighbor ladies and discuss what was learned at that week’s class,” said Hemingway, “Extension agriculture courses give women the feeling of empowerment.”

Ryan Drollette, ISU Extension and Outreach Farm Business Management Specialist, looks forward to teaching farm management courses for women. “The interaction between the participants is unlike any other course. It is fun to watch the dynamics of an Annie’s Project group develop over a few short weeks,” said Drollette. The farm management specialist also finds it rewarding to get feedback about past courses and see the positive changes participants make to their operations and lives. “I’m proud of Deb’s and Jenny’s efforts to be thinking about the future of their farms,” Drollette commented.

Every woman and every farm family has their own unique farm transitioning story. Kinney’s and Hemingway’s stories  are prime examples of the variety of women who  participate in Managing for Today and Tomorrow courses to help them  develop networks and skills that are key to making successful farm transitions.  The two women shared their stories with the Iowa Farm Transition and Beginning Farmer Working Group at the group’s August 20, 2014 meeting held at the Celebration Barn and Wildwood Farm in Solon, Iowa. The working group is made up of many people and organizations in Iowa who work together to provide resources and encourage successful transitions among established and beginning generations of farmers.

Women participating in the Annie’s Project courses frequently asked for more information on farm and ranch transition planning. Recognizing the needs, a team of extension educators responded by developing the new Managing for Today and Tomorrow course. Already, 348 farm and ranch women and their families in eleven states have benefited from the new program. In the past three years, Annie’s Project educator teams also developed new courses on other topics such as managing cattle, moving beyond the financial basics, and human resource management. Guiding the development of all these programs, is the Annie’s Project mission statement to empower farm women to be better business partners and owners through networks and by managing and organizing critical information.

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach provides practical information to help beginning and established farmers solve problems, develop skills and build a better future. To find a Managing for Today and Tomorrow, Annie’s Project, or other course for farm women near you, visit your local extension office, or access the web and visit Annie's Project. On the left side of the webpage there is a tab titled Upcoming Classes; click on your state to see locations.

The Managing for Today and Tomorrow course and the Iowa Farm Transition and Beginning Farmer Working Group was developed through a partnership between the Annie’s National Network at Iowa State University, the Illinois based Annie’s Project Education for Farm Women Non-Profit Organization, several Farm Credit Associations, and the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA, Grant # 2011-49400-30584.  


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