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Virginia Cooperative Extension -
 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

If the Worst Happens …

Farm Business Management Update, August - September 2008

By Bill Whittle (, Extension Agent, Farm Business Management, Northwest District

For many Valley farmers the farm is the primary income generator, if not the sole income for the family. If the worst happens to you, will your farm be able to continue? This is not a question about dealing with transferring the farm to the next generation, but a question that deals with the day-to-day operation of the farm if you are unfortunate enough to suffer catastrophic injury or the massive destruction of property. The question is an attempt to look at that period of time immediately following catastrophe before invoking any medical, disability, or property insurance that may allow you to weather the rough times. Will the cows get fed? Will the corn be sprayed? Will the strawberries be picked? Will the note at the bank be paid? Will the corn that you sold be delivered? Will your farm operationally survive in the short run and continue to provide financial support to the family?

Each farm is different, but to continue operating every farm requires a plan of action. If you, the farm operator, are healthy, you handle the details. But if you become incapacitated, who will take over the day-to-day management? Most farmers tend to operate as a committee of one and do not commit to paper specific management plans for the continued day-to-day operation. Farmers tend to be private about their personal affairs, and this desire to be private often extends to the farm operation.

Now is the time to ask, “If something happens to me, who will make the day-to-day decisions for the farm and keep income flowing?” Often family or neighbors will step in and handle vital chores, but if you have not shared with someone your management plan, it is unreasonable to expect anyone else to maintain your production. For example, if the current dairy herd ration is not written down, how can family and neighbors properly feed your milking herd to maintain production and needed income?

A solution to this problem, though not easy, is to carefully write down management plans for the farm, including rations, livestock management plans, crops management plans, marketing plans, work schedules, and schedule of payments to creditors. If you do it or you manage it, then your stand-in needs to know what must be done without a lot of guesswork. The disadvantage with writing your day-to-day management plan is that each component must be regularly updated as the year progresses and situations change. This updating can get cumbersome, but is necessary for someone else to be able to fill your shoes when you can’t. The advantage to updating your day-to-day management plan is that it forces you to review your management schemes and determine if advantageous changes should be made.

Where do you keep this plan? This plan is not a secret to be squirreled away. Share it with your spouse, children, partners, and close friends. They may not need to see all of the details until disaster strikes, but people need to be aware that you have taken the time to write out your management plans. These copies need to be dated and everyone needs to understand that you will periodically update this information. If you choose to keep the plans on your computer then you need to share passwords; otherwise, it is worse than a locked box. In any case a hard copy kept in a location away from the computer is always useful to have.

Planning and fore-thought are keys to successfully managing your farm. Committing your management plan to writing for your temporary stand-in is but one way to insure your management continues during the time you can’t do it yourself.


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