PROJECT CLOSED: Succession Planning for Dairy Farms: Managing Human, Financial and Legal Risks

Worksite Location
Broome, Chemung, Cortland, Onondaga, Tioga and Tompkins Counties
Project Dates
June 1 - August 14 (11 weeks)
Faculty Sponsor
Jennifer Ifft, Department of Applied Economics and Management
Field Mentors/Supervisors
Mary Kate Wheeler, Farm Business Management Specialist, South Central NY Dairy & Field Crops Team
Project Summary and Intended Outcomes

When farm operators fail to plan for the transfer of business assets and management to the next generation, it exposes their business to human, financial and legal risks that can threaten farm viability. However, less than one third of U.S. farms have a succession plan in place (Harris and Mishra, 2016). Despite survey data and anecdotal evidence documenting a need for succession planning, our South Central NY Dairy and Field Crops Team was not able to generate enough farmer demand to run a Succession Planning Workshop in 2019. This project will identify educational priorities and strategies to equip farmers with knowledge and skills to navigate the succession planning process. The CALS Summer Intern will play a lead role in gathering information from dairy farmers and evaluating producer demand for specific educational content and delivery strategies, including online learning. Short-term project outcomes will include a written report and a presentation summarizing key findings and recommendations. Impacts of this project will continue beyond the scope of the internship, as CCE staff will draw on the needs assessment to develop an Extension Risk Management Education grant proposal and to inform future program development.

Roles and Responsibilities

With support from the South Central NY Dairy and Field Crops Team, the CALS Student Intern will develop and implement a needs assessment with dairy farmers to identify their educational needs and preferences regarding succession planning. The project will occur in four stages: research methods, data collection, data analysis, and reporting. The first phase will include background research into the succession planning process. During the data collection phase, the student will conduct in-person interviews on dairy farms. The student may also conduct a phone or online survey to supplement the interviews. Data analysis will involve a qualitative assessment of interview findings, supported by some basic quantitative analysis. The Student Intern will summarize results and recommendations in a written report, and in a presentation to Cornell Cooperative Extension educators and stakeholders.

Qualifications and Previous Coursework

Coursework in business management, agricultural economics, development sociology, communications, and/or education. Experience with qualitative data analysis is a plus. Strong interest in agriculture, demonstrated through prior coursework or on-farm experience. Comfortable using Excel for data management. Strong written and oral communication skills. Experience with survey development is helpful.

Benefits and Skills

Upon completion of the internship, the Student Intern will be able to:

1. Identify the major steps involved in planning and managing a farm business transition.

2. Discuss the risks associated with the failure to implement a farm succession plan.

3. Explain the program development process and its importance to extension educators.

4. Articulate the role of a needs assessment in the program development process.

5. Develop interview questions and conduct interviews with farmers.

6. Translate interview data into meaningful recommendations for program development.