OSU helps tree farmers plan across generations

February 28, 2003

OREGON CITY – Planting a tree is a long-term investment. So when it comes time to pass on the family tree farm, long-term planning is necessary.

A new program from Oregon State University Extension Service is helping forest owners plan transitions from one generation to the next.

Father and son standing in front of trees."When you are managing a crop that spans generations, you need to talk about long-term goals and values with your family," said Mike Bondi, OSU professor and Extension forester in Clackamas County.

Bondi and Pat Frishkoff, former director of OSU's Austin Family Business Program, have designed a program to help families discuss sensitive issues and plan for the future of the family tree farm. The program explores the human side of transitioning forest land from one generation to the next.

"Forest owners may be worried how to keep the farm in the family," said Bondi. "Or they may find it hard to choose which family member should be given the responsibility for managing the family farm.

"Where most families struggle is being able to openly communicate about family values, priorities, wishes, and commitments," Bondi added. "It isn't easy."

Recently, 60 family members joined Bondi and Frishkoff in the OSU Extension program to talk openly about what works in family businesses and what doesn't. Several families were there with grandparents, parents and children.

At one point, Frishkoff separated the younger generation from the older generation and asked each group to list questions or statements they wanted to address to the other generation. The lists reflected concerns about money, careers, philosophy and future choices.

"This was an extremely useful way to get all of the fears, concerns, wishes and dreams out on the table for the entire group in a non-threatening way," Bondi said. "Pat focused attention on the tough issues, helping families define what their farm means to them, what their vision for the future is and how to set goals to reach their wishes."

At the end of the one-day workshop, each family left with a transition planning notebook and the beginning of a plan for transitioning ownership and management of the family farm.

"Because of the interactions between our family and the interactions we had with other families, we have prevented misunderstandings about expectations that would cause problems," said Scott Russell, a tree farmer from Scappoose, who came to the workshop with his wife and two sons.

"It really helped us to see the issues that need to be resolved now as opposed to later," agreed his son, Carl.

For more information about the program, "The Future of Your Tree Farm: The Human Side of Transitioning to the Next Generation," contact the Clackamas County office of the OSU Extension Service, at 503-655-8631.

Author: Peg Herring
Source: Mike Bondi