Lebanon County Dairy Producer Takes Proactive Approach to Transitioning Farm to Son 

At Homestead Acres in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, Curtis Zimmerman and his wife manage the dairy operation and milk 120 cows alongside their son. While Curtis is only 49, he decided to take a proactive approach with succession planning and giving his son the opportunity to take over the dairy business. The Zimmermans worked with Dr. Brian Reed, a dairy farm consultant, to start building a clear transition plan between generations. The Center for Dairy Excellence offers business consultants like Dr. Reed at no charge to dairy farm families to assist with transition/succession planning, business planning, financial analysis and more.

“We talked with other people who utilized consultants, and it seemed to work out pretty good for them. We decided to give it a try. We needed some guidance on how to go about it,” Curtis shared.

The family met at least twice with Dr. Reed who listened to their goals and ideas for the transition and then facilitated the steps that needed to happen to start building a concrete plan. While the Zimmermans are just starting out in the succession planning process, having an outside consultant involved allowed all parties and generations to feel heard and understood.

“It gave us all a voice in the decisions. I was a little concerned about how to make everything fair and make it work financially for both parties. Dr. Reed helped us through all that,” Curtis said. “The way he helped us set it up, we can tweak the plan as we go. If something isn’t working out on either end, we can switch it around. It helped us understand where everyone is at.”

As one of the initial steps in the transition plan, Curtis’s son is buying the cows this coming January 2024. Dr. Reed helped them determine the best way to split the income and decide who pays which bills going forward. Eventually, the long-term plan is to rent their son the farm if that matches his goals.

“We’re going to take small steps in the whole transition, so nobody is stuck or gets hurt in the process. I wanted him to be able to slowly work into this. I don’t ever want him to feel trapped or like he doesn’t have an exit,” Curtis added.

By being proactive about the transition planning process, Curtis feels it could help both parties navigate the financial elements and give his son the opportunity to make his own mark on the dairy operation.

“I’m only 49. But when we took it over from my dad who was the fourth generation, all of a sudden one day [it was ours] and there was really no plan. I saw the damage that did over the years – all the wasted time and money. We had some pretty rough years, and I think a lot of that could have been avoided if there was a plan,” Curtis shared. “I hoped there was a better way for us to do things now, so that’s what we’re trying to do [with this transition plan].”

Instead of waiting to make these types of transition decisions, working with an outside consultant helped guide the Zimmerman family through the starting points they can take to maintain a true generational family dairy operation.

“I see so often that we wait and wait. Then, the next generation can’t even afford it or doesn’t have enough time in life to purchase a place or take over a dairy operation. It’s just too expensive or time consuming for them. So, the earlier you can start for a young couple, the better,” he added. “I don’t know if Dr. Reed told us anything we didn’t know, but it’s always good to hear it from an outside third party – especially when you’re working with family.”  

To learn more about working with a dairy farm consultant on your operation, contact Melissa Anderson, Programs and Operations Manager, at manderson@centerfordairyexcellence.org or call 717-346-0849.