Jim Molenaar is the new farmland access and succession teams coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.
In the newly created role, Molenaar will guide farmers and ag landowners through the succession process, bringing in additional outside team members as needed, including legal experts, accountants and farm business management instructors. There is no cost for this service for those who participate.
Molenaar is no stranger to the world of farm planning.
He worked as a high school agriculture teacher to start his career, but the 1980s farm crisis led him to be more interested in adult farm education.
“I’ve worked with farmers for probably 37 years of my 43 year teaching career,” Molenaar said. “About 10 years ago, I really started to see a need in the farmers I worked with for succession planning.”
He remembers it being the height of the farm crisis when he was teaching high school in Lakefield, Minnesota.
“On the same day, the FDIC closed the Lakefield bank, the Fulda bank, and the Round Lake bank, all kind of within a 30 mile triangle of each other,” Molenaar said. “There was this panic throughout the ag community at that time, and the county agent came and sat down in my office and asked me if I would consider being a mediator for the new farmer lender mediation program.”
Twenty-two years old at the time, Molenaar said he wanted to help.
“It was a tall task, but that started my interest in working with farmers, and helping farmers plan and figure out their future,” he said.
The agricultural industry has rebounded since then but Molenaar said there are new challenges that younger generations face today.
“We’re not seeing 20% interest rates but interest has gone up, and I think agriculture has consolidated a lot, and there aren’t nearly as many smaller farm operations in existence,” he said.
He said today there are many million and multimillion dollar businesses in agriculture, making it a bigger bite for a young person to come into.
“In the early 1980s, a person could start farming on their own a small farm, and be successful,” he said. “That is still possible today, but I think we’re seeing with the dollars, the expertise, that there’s really no room for mistakes for a young person. You kind of have to hit the ground running.”
Molenaar, who grew up on a farm in the 1970s, had his own hogs and cattle that he was responsible for that his dad would take care of during the week and he’d care for on the weekends he was home from college.
“That’s how I paid my way through college,” Molenaar said.
In 1983, his dad died in farm accident, and Molenaar said his life changed in an instant. He always wanted to be a career farmer, but at that time, he couldn’t find a lender that was willing to finance him.
“There was no financing available, and in fact, the banker kind of laughed at me,” he said. “And my mother was not in favor of it either, because my dad lost his life in the farm shop, and she didn’t want to see me doing that.”
So he got into teaching — first young people and then adults.
“My farming days ended quite a long time ago,” he said. “That’s not all bad, because I’ve enjoyed my career. It’s been a great career.”
Jim Ostlie, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s coordinator of the agency’s succession-related programs, said his own family’s farm has called on Molenaar to help with planning for the future. He called Molenaar a “perfect fit” for the new job.
“We’re getting the word out that Jim is willing to sit down with farmers at the table, work out succession plans, and bring in the needed expertise if he doesn’t have it, to make sure that things can move forward in a progressive manner,” Ostlie said of the no-charge service. “If I could replicate 20 Jims, I would do it.”
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