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Passion Is Key to Successful Succession

by Carolina Keegan

Published: Friday, November 18, 2022

Farming the Future | First in a Series

Farm succession can cause a lot of questions: Will just one child take over or will the farm be split between them? How can farmers ensure the farm will survive under their successor's care? Will there be anyone who wants to take over the farm?

For Shawn Krull and his daughter, Arrington, these questions are key to their transition's success. Shawn says the most important factor in farm succession is whether or not the successor is passionate about farming.

"A lot of farms go under because kids aren't coming back, expenses get too high or something happens and they have to shut down," Arrington said.

This won't be the case for her, she says. She plans to go back to the farm in the late 2020s to early 2030s.

"It depends on how things shake out, because farmers, they never stop working. They just retire, or, rather, say they're retired," she said.

She expects Shawn and her uncle, Shad, will never truly stop farming, much like their father, Hubert, who still helps on the farm. The co-owners will likely lowly pull back slowly and let her do the bulk of the work after they fully transition the farm into her care.

One question Shawn and Shad consider with each decision on the farm is how it will make the farm better for the next generation. Since Arrington is the oldest and is just in her freshman year of college, they are still in the beginning stages of planning for farm succession.

The Krulls raise commercial hogs, corn, soybeans and wheat. As an SAE project for FFA, Arrington raised her own goats in high school. They have been farming in Milford since 1885.

"That's really cool and neat, but I don't want that to pressure my kids into coming back to keep that going," Shawn said. "Do they enjoy it and want to do it or are they doing it out of duty?"

He said he has seen farms go under because the motive was simply dutiful. He doesn't want that to happen to his kids.

"My brother and I walked away from really good money because we enjoy it (farming)," he said.

But not everyone is like that, which is why Shawn is not requiring any of his kids to come back to the farm. He and his wife implement what they like to call the spaghetti method: they expose their kids to multiple different opportunities and then encourage the ones they seem to like the most.

He says that passion is what drives progress and helps the farm to thrive.

"Exposure is key because at least they know what it's like," Shawn said. Instilling good work ethic is also imperative to increasing the chances that a child will decide to return to the farm.

He says the only thing anyone can do is show their kids the different opportunities with farming and agriculture and hope that it clicks with them.

"That's what it takes to be successful in ag: there has to be a passion," he said.

Arrington says she has that passion. Now, she just has to get the know-how. She has been active in 4-H and FFA and even ran for FFA state office. She is currently attending Purdue University to study farm management and plans to work in the agricultural industry, maybe a seed or chemical company, to gain outside insight before returning full-time.

Since she doesn't plan to take over full-time for at least another eight years, Arrington hasn't begun to dive into the logistics of taking on the farm. However, she knows what she needs to do now: learn the systems of the farm, how to run the business side of things and how to best maintain the machines.

She looks to Shawn and Shad for their guidance in these areas. She is also searching for internships to help her broaden her farming experience.

"I really encourage her to get some off-farm experience to get a different view of how things are done," Shawn said.

This tactic was what helped him and Shad successfully take over the farm when they were in Arrington's position.

Shawn encourages the off-farm experience for two more reasons: to see what else is out there and test if farming is what Arrington truly wants to do, and to give her a set of skills that she can bring back to the farm to improve it.

"That's what I'm hoping she's learning at Purdue," he said.

Currently, he is working out the legalities of farm succession in preparation for Arrington returning to the farm. He is setting the farm up as a corporation and two LLCs to handle the financial aspect of succession.

He and Shad are also expanding the hog operation to help Arrington and any of her siblings or cousins who might also return to the farm. The hogs will create capital for the next generation, Shawn said.

In the meantime, he is having fun discussing what she is learning and watching her knowledge of farming grow.

"I know my dad has been working really hard to prepare for when I come back or if one of my siblings or cousins comes back," Arrington said.

So, she is learning as much as possible for her part. There are many challenges for Arrington as she looks to her future in farming: debates over solar and wind, land acquisition for housing developments, chemical use and GMOs vs non-GMOs. She is determined to keep up with the various topics so she can adapt and thrive on the farm.

"Knowledge is power in the agricultural world. If you can get really good at a certain set of things, you can go really far," she said.

Along with farm management, she is also taking classes in agronomy to expand her understanding of row crops and in political science. She says she is studying this area to increase her understanding of how politics affects farmers. This will help her dodge problems or challenges that could arise because a new law was passed.

Arrington also wants to make sure she keeps the farm up to date with the technology and inputs.

"Over the past couple years, I've seen my dad and my uncle implement cover crops and I've seen that those have helped some of our fields in keeping them together in nutrients," she said. "Little changes like that can make a big difference in the long run."

Her plan is to start with a job in agricultural industry, then slowly pull back to part-time and increase her time on the farm until she can take on the farm full-time as the position opens for her.

Shawn and Arrington agree that enjoying farming is key to keeping the farm successful, because there are many other jobs that offer higher pay for the less work. But for Arrington farming is a no-brainer.

"Why not keep doing it if I like it and it feels right?" she asked.

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