Free Assistance Available for North Carolina’s Future Farmers
Kelly Vann and Joe Martin of Northampton County might have one of the most unique agriculture relationships of anyone in North Carolina.
They’re not brothers nor are they father and son. But their working association that started more than 20 years ago is one that’s ensuring a family-oriented farm moves from one generation to the next.
“It’s just a different relationship than what a lot of people have,” Vann says. “He says he wouldn’t have been able to get started farming without me, and I say I wouldn’t have been able to continue to farm without him.”
Vann, 71, is the Northampton County Farm Bureau President and is a member of North Carolina Farm Bureau’s Board of Directors. Fellow Farm Bureau member Martin is 30 years younger and started as Vann’s sidekick as a child.
“If it were not for him, I would not be farming,” Martin says. “He’s a good man to work with. He’s patient. He doesn’t try to make you feel like you’re too young and you don’t understand. He’ll say, ‘Let me show you why I’m telling you this.’
“Without him, I honestly don’t think I would have had the opportunity because without him giving up that first piece of land, I wouldn’t have had a start. It’s just a good situation,” Martin says.
To arrive at today’s situation – one where Vann still raises crops on 900 acres and Martin chips in on another 300 acres – you have to rewind back to 1965. That’s when Vann got his start in farming, borrowing $5,000 to purchase a tractor, a used pickup and other equipment to cultivate 200 acres.
Since then, the amounts have grown exponentially. Nowadays, Vann says $5,000 might not be enough to pay for tires on his 300-horsepower tractor, a machine that might cost $250,000 to purchase. Vann says a farmer likely would need $500,000 to buy a new combine or $675,000 to purchase a new cotton picker.
“If you want to start out farming today, if you don’t have a million dollars, you wouldn’t have much,” Vann says. “Just your operating money can amount to a million dollars, not counting your equipment. Even a million dollars’ worth of equipment won’t put you very well-equipped.”
Martin understood the situation well. It’s why he worked on Vann’s farm to help pay for his schooling in diesel mechanics. When he finished his training, Martin decided that farming was going to be his livelihood and asked Vann if he could trade his labor for use of that high-priced equipment.
Since 1993, that’s how Vann and Martin have operated.
Each year, Martin has been able to gain some equity to the point where he purchased his grandfather’s farm, land Vann tended previously.
Not only has their relationship helped Martin get a handle on the financial aspect of agriculture, he credits Vann with teaching him a multitude of other things it takes to be a successful farmer.
“That’s always been his motto: Don’t wait too late where you get behind,” Martin says. “If you start behind, you’re always behind. It’s proven to be so because I’ve tried on occasion to push things back and every time I’ve done something to that effect I have regretted it.
“Even now, before making a major decision, we talk to each other – about equipment, crops, you name it,” Martin says. “If I’ve got something I’ve got a question about, I always go back to him because he’s been in it long enough that he’s seen enough things.”
And Vann credits Martin with wanting to learn, not just about the methods of farming but elements such as technology that have become so commonplace.
“The reason Joe Martin is successful, he has the desire to farm,” Vann says. “There are a lot of them coming back into it because crop prices are up. These young boys are coming in because they think there’s a lot of money in it. There may be at times, but as a general rule there’s a lot of hard work in it.
“A friend of mine told me a long time ago that they called him lucky,” Vann says. “He said he found out that the harder he worked, the luckier he got. Joe Martin is a hard worker.”
Help to Plan for the Future
Vann’s two sons opted not to take over their father’s agriculture operation, which opened the door for Martin.
However, on farms and in households throughout North Carolina, parents are passing their land and livelihoods down to their children. And North Carolina Farm Bureau offers free assistance to ensure that process goes smoothly.
In many counties, Farm Bureau offers annual presentations by one of its three specialists who provide assistance in estate planning. It might seem like a difficult task, but taking some steps now can help alleviate problems down the road.
The process can begin with obtaining an insurance packet from your Farm Bureau agent or at the county office. Then, gather up some basic information about your financial standing, as well as a will, if one has been written.
Once that information is collected, one of Farm Bureau’s estate planning specialists can meet with you for a one-on-one consultation. The representative will provide analysis of your estate situation and give recommendations the member can take to his accountant and legal advisor.
While Farm Bureau doesn’t complete legal documentation, the representative can streamline a plan to make it efficient for the member to request specific documents and plans to be orchestrated by attorneys and tax professionals.
Often members might already have a will, but it might be too simple to handle the complexities of the current estate, especially if there are numerous heirs or business partners.
Farm Bureau is no stranger to estate planning. The organization has been offering this free service to members since 1974. Specialists understand how to take advantage of current planning strategy to lessen administrative costs and tax payments as much as possible.
These specialists say they’ve seen numerous cases where members chose not to complete estate planning beforehand. In the worst cases, heirs faced significant tax obligations resulting in them having to hold an estate sale to help raise money to pay taxes and administrative costs.
If you’re not already a Farm Bureau member, the application to join can be found at ncfb.org. The annual cost is just $25.
Your Estate-Planning Team
Attorney: Establishing an estate plan is a team effort. As a member of the team, an attorney can draft any legal instruments such as wills and/or trusts, and even business continuation documents such as a buy/sell agreement.
Accountant: Another member of the team may be your accountant who knows about your financial situation. An accountant can also assist in determining values for both personal and business assets.
Trust Officer: A trust officer is often included because they can offer expert management in many estates involving trusts.
Farm Bureau Agent: Your Farm Bureau agent can bring the team together to make things happen. The agent can provide life insurance when needed because the event that triggers the estate plan and the costs associated with it—death—also creates the funds needed to settle an estate plan.
Farm Work for Fun
Want to try your hand at doing farm work for an afternoon or longer? North Carolina has plenty of opportunities for city dwellers to spend some time in the country tending to animals, crops and more. The Agritourism Office in the Marketing Division of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has a listing of nearly 600 participating locations from the mountains to the coast.
Agritourism in North Carolina often includes lots of activities on farms, ranging from hay rides, interacting with barnyard animals, corn mazes, pick-your-own fruits and vegetables, to bird watching, fishing, hunting and camping.
“These farms cover a range of activities,” says Martha Glass, manager of the Agritourism Office. “People really like the natural part of the food industry these days, and we’re finding it’s more and more important for our own health and safety to know where our food is coming from and where it grew.”
For more information, go to www.ncagr.gov/markets/agritourism.