With their adult children paving their own paths that veered away from land ownership and farming, the Abolts made the difficult decision to sell their family farm in Indiana. The land, which had been in the family for four generations, was part of a long-term farm tenant agreement and boasted updated wind turbines, healthy soil, and high yields.
“The land we sold was originally acquired by our great-grandfather,” says Russ Abolt. “He was very much involved in agriculture and was a breeder of Hereford cattle. In fact, he was the organizer of the American Hereford Association.”
Abolt’s mother became the third generation to own the land, which was contracted to another family because his father already had a large farm to manage on his own. Eventually, when Abolt’s mother passed away at 70 years old, Russ and his two siblings inherited her land. However, because all three of them were already established in other career paths, none of them opted to farm the land. So, they decided to keep the farming tenant relationship as is and manage the land from afar. Together, Abolt and his sister and brother managed the 325+ acres for health and yield, operating the land as a small business, using profit from crops to purchase seeds and invest in the property. During their tenure, they even replaced two aging windmills with up-to-date wind turbines, which offered a larger return on investment than the antiquated ones before.
Selling Inherited Farmland can be an overwhelming decision.
The multi-generation ownership ended with their generation. Abolt’s brother had passed away and Russ, his sister, and their sister-in-law determined that the fifth-generation waiting in the wings didn’t have the capacity, experience, or desire that was required to keep the land in working order – even with the continuation of a long-term farm tenant. So, they made the difficult decision to sell the acreage and split the money evenly among the heirs.
“It came down to deciding what was best for the family,” says Abolt. “It was unfortunate, but eventually family farms reach a point where the next generation is just not going to be up to it.”
“The basic question,” continues Abolt, “is what is going to happen when the kids have this responsibility? And if they end up selling the land at half price because of global warming and political turmoil and so forth, is that fair to them? So, we have to think about them. We have to think about our own needs. We have to think about the people, the farms, the land, and so forth.”
How do we divide the land equally & fairly?
Fortunately, the Abolts were able to list their acreage at a good time and sold the land for a comfortable profit.
Unfortunately, their difficult decision to sell isn’t a unique one and it’s one that Abolt has been familiar with since before he and his family faced the same reckoning as family farms before him.
“Selling is still a last resort,” says Abolt. “If you decide to keep the farm for the kids and they start comparing the financial return, it’s going to become problematic unless they have a really strong attachment to the land. In our case, two-thirds of the three-thirds didn’t have that attachment so it made the best sense to sell.”