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Karl Guenther Column: Estate Planning for Michigan Farmland

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A farm is seen in the distance behind corn fields in Redkey, Indiana June 28, 2012. REUTERS/Brent Smith
A farm is seen in the distance behind corn fields in Redkey, Indiana June 28, 2012. REUTERS/Brent Smith

I first heard about Michigan farmland being lost to wind and water erosion, but mostly it was being lost to “urban sprawl.”  I can’t go back now and pinpoint the exact dates and figures presented, but it must have started, for me, in the ‘70s.  The verbal and written assaults continued until - - - well, maybe we’re still hearing it occasionally, even now.  Back then, as I recall, millions of acres of farmland were being lost each year.

That pronouncement, as often as it came, never seemed to ruffle any feathers around here, so I just shrugged it off as a bunch of nonsense from the doom-shouters, not to be taken seriously.  And, I guess it wasn’t.  I don’t know of any restrictive legislation even being considered, never mind adopted, putting the brakes on development and expansion of cities and villages, or expressways and highway interchanges, that also take up sizable chunks of ground, usually farmland.  I do remember thinking at the time, “If that’s real, and it keeps up for very long, all the farmland will be gone!”  It wasn’t real.  Such calamity calling as that was, is reminiscent now, of what’s going on in Washington, with all the predictions of dire consequences of this one or that one being elected, or this or that budget proposal going into place.  The point, I’m sure, was then, as it is now, to stampede a lot of us into buying into the plans and purpose of the doom-sayers.

The most recent statistics on Michigan Agriculture show just under ten million acres in farmland.  That is down 1% from the previous year, reflecting a nationwide trend. U.S. farmland comes in at 914 million acres, down 3% from 2011. For whatever it might be worth, the Michigan Field Office of USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (you can guess why we just refer to it as “NASS”) shows shrinkage in the average size of a Michigan farm.  It’s down from 182 acres in 2011, to 181 acres in 2012.  No indication if those lost acres were washed or blown away, or just covered up by cities or highways.

There is another means by which farmland can become endangered, and it reminds me of a feature on WKZO radio, dealing with estate planning.  Craig Thomas, MSU Extension, farm business management educator states the obvious - - your estate WILL be passed on, when you die.  To whom it goes, and if they’ll hold onto it, even IF they can, will evolve out of the presence or absence of a valid estate plan.  Absent that, your heirs may be forced to liquidate to satisfy the demands of non-farm heirs who want to cash in.  Or, if you haven’t jumped through all the tax and regulation loopholes, heirs may find themselves awash in such entanglements.

Get help, and get it done!

Karl Guenther is a retired Kalamazoo farm broadcaster and can be reached at khguenther@att.net. He is a member of Michigan Farm Bureau and an emeritus member of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting.

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