Not just fun and games Convention educational sessions covered a wide range of topics

By Trista Crossley

wheat field

One of the highlights of the Tri-State Grain Growers Convention is the variety of topics available in the break-out sessions. This year’s sessions included topics on retirement, land values, markets, estate planning, barley, mental health, and crop insurance. Here’s a short summary of several break-outs.

Succession planning

Pinion estate plan advisor Kevin Bearley told producers that waiting to have a succession plan or trying to predict what the future estate tax exemption is going to be is a mistake. 

“Fifty percent of people don’t do succession planning if they don’t think they’ll owe estate taxes. I always tell them that’s a terrible reason to not do estate planning,” he said. “Why would you take that kind of risk with this thing you have been working at for generations? The best time to do succession planning is now.”

He recommended four documents that producers should consider:

• A will.

• A revokable trust. This helps one manage their assets should they become ill or disabled. A revokable trust, also called a living trust, can be revoked or rewritten by the grantor when desired.

• An irrevocable trust. This type of trust cannot be changed or terminated without the permission of the grantor’s beneficiary. Irrevocable trusts are generally set up to minimize estate taxes and protect assets.

• An intentionally defective irrevocable trust. These types of trusts are generally used to transfer income-producing and highly appreciating assets out of one’s estate while still receiving that income. These assets generally do not incur any estate tax when the grantor dies.

High land values

Paul Vuletich and Ryan Kile from AgWest Farm Credit said dryland farm values in Eastern Washington are generally stable to increasing. Land inventory is low. Kile said in recent years, there’s been lots of outside money flowing into the Palouse with most investors looking for a 3 to 4% return. If an investor paid $4,000 per acre, they have to charge approximately $172 per acre as a cash rental rate, a price much higher than most farmers are willing to pay. With commodity prices dropping, farmers who pay that rental rate are likely subsidizing that ground from other ground they own.

Because of higher interest rates, the debt service cost has increased from $169 per acre in January 2023 to nearly $226 per acre in November 2023. In order to purchase land, some producers are going with a five-year fixed rate loan in hopes that when the variable interest rate kicks in, interest rates are lower. However, Kile warned that if interest rates don’t go down, that variable rate can be a “death blow” to some operations. He said producers who use this need to be willing to gamble on that risk.

Looking at 2024, Vuletich and Kile predicted:

• Losses for higher cost producers.

• A continued decrease in working capital.

• A continued slowing of equipment purchases.

• Outside investors will continue to have an interest in purchasing larger tracts of land.

• Unfavorable lease structures will drastically impact high leverage operations.

NRCS update

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) session was led by Aubrey Hoxie from NRCS-Washington, Chelcey Larsen from NRCS-Idaho, and Nathan James from NRCS-Oregon. The session focused on the allocation of new funds across various programs through the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). 

The IRA infused NRCS with $19.5 billion in 2022 to bolster existing conservation initiatives like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), and Conservation Technical Assistance. This act uses current farm bill authorization and must be utilized by Sept. 30, 2031. This new funding significantly amplifies NRCS’s mission to deliver conservation solutions so agricultural producers can protect natural resources and feed a growing world. According to NRCS, agricultural producers can play a critical role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, sequestering carbon, and delivering lasting solutions to the climate crisis. 

Each speaker provided an overview of their state’s IRA allocations, new practices and enhancements available to growers, and application cutoffs. While initial application cutoffs have passed for Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, growers interested in these programs may still be eligible and were encouraged to apply. 

“We accept applications all year, as additional cutoffs could occur,” Hoxie said. 

The breakdown of NRCS’s Climate-Smart Mitigation Activities highlighted the various ways for growers to leverage the IRA funds, which includes a broad spectrum of applications from soil health and nitrogen management to energy efficiency and wetlands restoration. A full list of qualifying mitigation activities is available on the NRCS website at Speakers discussed incorporating these activities into existing programs like EQIP, CSP, and RCPP. They also discussed how NRCS was leveraging IRA funds through agreements, contracts, and partnerships. 

Speakers emphasized the importance of engaging with local field offices for guidance on the best enhancements and additional practices that align with individual farms. The session concluded with an update on NRCS hiring and job opportunities, the differentiation of the organic program, and the flexibility within CSP concerning land uses and resource concerns, highlighting avenues for broader participation and conservation efforts.

Mental health

The emergencies might look a little different, but QPR, just like CPR, can save lives.

QPR, which stands for question, persuade, refer, is a technique to help one recognize signs of suicide, said Oregon State University Extension’s Cassie Bouska. She pointed out that agriculture has a higher rate of suicide than in other industries, and the rates of suicide have increased significantly over the past 20 years. Male producers are at a higher risk, for reasons including: 

• Feeling they can’t ask for help.

• Limited access to health care.

• Multiple uncontrollable stressors.

• Lack of a close confidant.

• Stress-driven onset of a depressive disorder.

• Alcohol abuse.

“You may not even know you are feeling something that can be helped,” she said. “The theory (behind QPR) is to reach people where they are at and doesn’t require them to ask for help. QPR is not intended to be a form of counseling or treatment. It is intended to offer hope through positive action.”

The QPR steps are:

• Question. Plan a time and place to ask and talk to the person in a private setting. A less direct approach could be asking them if they’ve been unhappy lately. “You’re not thinking of killing yourself, are you?” and “You wouldn’t do anything stupid, would you?”   are examples of how not to ask about suicide. 

• Persuade. Once the question has been asked, most people thinking of suicide want to talk. Listen to the problem and give them your full attention. Remember, suicide itself is not the problem, only the solution to their problem that they’ve come up with. Don’t be judgmental. 

• Refer. Get them help. Ask them to go with you to get help. Suicidal people often believe they cannot be helped so you often have to do more. Have your resources handy (phone numbers, counselor’s names, and any other information that might help).

The hardest part of QPR is often asking somebody if they are thinking about suicide. Direct verbal clues include saying “I’ve decided to kill myself,” or “I wish I were dead.” Indirect verbal clues, which are more common, could include saying “I’m tired of life, I just can’t go on,” “My family would be better off without me,” or “Pretty soon you won’t have to worry about me.” There are also behavioral clues, such as previous suicide attempts, putting personal affairs in order, and giving away prized possessions. Situational clues include being fired or being expelled from school; loss of any major relationship; sudden, unexpected loss of freedom or fear of punishment; and anticipated loss of financial security.

“How you ask the question is less important than that you ask it. If you cannot ask the question, find someone who can,” Bouska said.

Immediate mental health crisis resources include:

• Farm Aid Hotline at 800-FARM-AID (327-6243), open Monday-Friday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Eastern time.

• 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, open 24/7.

• 2-1-1, a comprehensive hotline that connects callers with local resources.