Maine Farmcast Episode 09: Resources for Succession Planning with Kate Turcotte

Kate Turcotte, Land For Good
Kate Turcotte

On this episode of the Maine Farmcast, Dr. Glenda Pereira, Assistant Extension Professor and State Dairy Specialist for the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, has a conversation with Kate Turcotte, Maine Field Agent for Land For Good and the Maine Education Coordinator for the Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship. Kate has returned to Maine with her family after farming and making cheese in Vermont. The conversation today highlights resources for farmers looking to navigate succession planning, as well as change in land ownership. Kate and her team will be offering a succession planning school in Maine during the fall of 2024 so be sure to check that out when dates are released.

Episode Resources


Glenda Pereira: 00:19

Welcome to the Maine Farmcast. This is your host, Dr. Glenda Pereira. I’m an assistant Extension professor as well as dairy specialist for the University of Maine Cooperative Extension and an assistant professor within the School of Food and Agriculture. Today, I have the pleasure of speaking with Kate Turcotte, wears two hats today in her role for Land For Good as well as the education coordinator for the dairy grazing apprenticeship.

Glenda Pereira: 00:47

Kate, thank you for being here today on the main farm cast. I’m happy that you have some good resources to share with folks. Would you be able to introduce yourself and give our listeners a bit about your background?

Kate Turcotte: 01:00

Sure. Yeah. No. Thank you so much for having me. So I’m originally from Maine.

Kate Turcotte: 01:04

I’m from the Farmington area, so from Franklin County. And I feel like the most formative experience that kinda led me to where I was is that when I was 12 years old, I started working on a farm. It was a small pick your own vegetable and fruit farm. And that was my first farming experience other than, you know, helping my parents out in their garden, which I feel like a lot of Maine kids grew up doing. From there I went to the University of Vermont where I studied ecological agriculture.

Kate Turcotte: 01:32

And then I spent the good part of 15, 16 years over in Vermont farming, but mostly making cheese. I spent years kind of trying to hone my craft of making artisan cheese, which I feel like I’ll spend the next 30 years of my life trying to do. And so, and then recently I moved back to my hometown in Farmington this past fall. And that’s when I started working for Land For Good and recently started working for the dairy grazing apprenticeship.

Glenda Pereira: 02:03

Awesome. Well, we’re super happy to have you and your expertise. So I have a question to ask. What is your favorite place that you have been to?

Kate Turcotte: 02:12

I it’s hard. I’d like I I’m still changing my decision even as we’re talking, but I feel like there’s 2 things. I feel like coming back home, I I’m finding lots of little small little gems and stuff like that in the area. There’s a farmer in our area that just opened up a great little cafe called roots down, and she’s been a vegetable farmer in our community for the last 10 years and recently opened up a cafe. And it’s just so great to see her kind of have a retail space and serve food to the community.

Kate Turcotte: 02:38

That really gets gets me excited. And then my second answer is just going to Italy because there’s just so much amazing food there. So, you know, 1 spot in here and 1 spot in Italy and but, yeah, I feel like it’s I’m really just happy to be being able to discover this the little places in my area to be able to, try great amazing food.

Glenda Pereira: 02:58

I agree. There there’s so many places in your community that are are little gems like you mentioned. So the the conversation we’re having today is regarding you as a resource for folks in in your role for Land For Good and the Dairy Grazing apprenticeship. So can you can you provide a little bit of background in how you have worked with farmers in this capacity?

Kate Turcotte: 03:18

I yeah. Of course. I feel like, one of the reasons why I was interested in this work is because I myself tried for many years to find my own farm and have talked to and worked on transition plans with older generations of farmers myself. And so through that experience, I gained a lot of respect for the people who work in the service provider industry and just a deeper appreciation understanding of the emotional kind of side of things of when people are looking to transition and sell their farm or stop farming in general. I just, it is a very complicated process.

Kate Turcotte: 03:51

It’s not impossible, but I feel there’s just a lot of different layers to it and through my own, like I said, my own process of, you know, being the younger generation, I just I have a deep appreciation for people who’ve been farming the land for many years and, you know, have when I was thinking about kind of exiting the production world, this was something that I was interested in. And so in in Maine specifically, the organization that I work for, Land For Good is a regional organization. So we work in all 6 New England states. We have a representative each state. So I work for I work in Maine.

Kate Turcotte: 04:25

And I would say that my primary role is mainly to just make sure that people understand the resources that are available. At Land For Good, we understand and I think a lot of the service providers understand that if you are looking to if you are looking to have farm succession, whether that’s within your family or whether that is, you know, you’re having identified a successor, but you’re looking for someone to take over, that it takes it’s a team approach. It takes a lot of different people to help with that process, and it does take time. And so I feel like a lot of people that reach out to me in Maine, I’m kind of their first stop as far as like trying to lay out the bigger picture, you know, I mean, what’s that saying? Like, you know, how you eat an elephant 1 bite at a time.

Kate Turcotte: 05:04

So trying to help people with that, you know, and and connecting people up with other resources, you know, you know, whether that’s other service providers in state, if they have accountants, financial advisors, you know, navigating the family dynamic, there’s many different, like, pieces to it. And so I think that that’s my role is to try to help create kind of help them understand the landscape and kinda keep the pace of it going. You know, it’s it’s it’s almost just connecting people with with resources and coaching and facilitating. You know, we don’t give advice. We don’t, you know, try to steer people in a certain direction and stuff, but I think it’s just more helping them navigate the process and understand that while it can be challenging, it’s incredibly doable and worthwhile because as we know, we wanna see this land stay in agriculture.

Glenda Pereira: 05:51

Right. Yeah. That’s a great point. I was just talking to another farmer and and they they they had the same sentiment. You know, they said, we just wanna see this space stay a farm.

Glenda Pereira: 06:00

You know, it it doesn’t necessarily have to be the same, system that it’s been in, but we well, you know, whether it changes to a different system, we just want it to to continue to be a farm. And so I I think this this segues nicely into the next thing that I think will be really useful for listeners. So where wherever the the folks that are listening are whatever space they’re in, how how do you you know, what are some tidbits that you can provide them with with ways that they can start this transition talk? And and I think, you know, mainly for new farmers, but as well for exiting farmers, what questions should they be asking, or or how do they prepare themselves to have this talk?

Kate Turcotte: 06:40

I think even just to start off, it’s important to say that there’s it’s always good to start talking as early as possible, even if it feels like it’s gonna be happening so far from now. You know, the earlier that they start planning the better because it does take a long amount of time. And so I think that just, you know, like I said, whether it’s a family dynamic, you know, having those conversations really early on, I think in some of the first steps is just to decide who should be at the table during this conversations, you know, whether it’s family, extended family and you know, that’s again, if you under, if you know who is going to be taking over the farm, you know, assembling the group of people that need to be in the room to have these conversations, because that’s gonna be the thing that takes the most amount of time is these conversations. And so that’s that’s kind of the first the first step in starting to prepare these talks. And then I think to goal setting, you know, kind of like grounding and deciding, like, coming back to almost like having a mission statement.

Kate Turcotte: 07:35

You know, I think that, like, that’s the most, you know, because a lot of these things are logistics and it’s, numbers and it’s, you know, things that can be challenging, difficult conversations and stuff. And so if you and your transition team have a, a goal and a mission and a vision to come back to during those hard times, you know, I think that that’s a really important place to start when you all are coming to the table with these good intentions. And there’s also there’s I think that that’s one of the things that we’ll get to the point we talk about resources, but at Land For Good, our website, we have a lot of resources for that kind of grounding conversations. So like workbooks to ask questions to be able to kind of prompt some of these answers of, you know, what you know, because each generation is going to have different goals, you know, of the younger generation might have to run the farm a little bit differently than the older generation. If if the older generation doesn’t have an an a successor that they know, but they’re gonna be going out and try to find someone to take over the farm, What are they what are they gonna be looking for?

Kate Turcotte: 08:36

What’s important to them? Are they gonna stay on the farm? Are they gonna leave the farm? All these kind of things, are questions to start to I think it’s important and we’ll, you know, we would say as important as just to get those down, get them on paper, and get them, you know, visual so that people can, you know, have a real clear understanding and expectation of where everyone’s coming from and then also revisit that throughout the process.

Glenda Pereira: 08:59

Yeah. And I really liked how you said good intentions, and that’s that stuck to me because, you you know, these these conversations can be difficult whether it’s a family that’s transition you know, it’s, you know, it’s children that are transitioning in as the new farmers or whether it’s somebody who’s not family related, but they are going to be transitioning to onto that farm. Because we we all have good intentions even though our goals might look differently. Right? And I think if we remember that that we we kind of all have the same goal.

Glenda Pereira: 09:29

Right? Keep the farm a farm. Continue, farming. You know, that that’s kind of what the goal is. We all have these good intentions even though sometimes it can get difficult to see what the goal for that new generation might be.

Glenda Pereira: 09:44

So I really liked how you mentioned that, and it is is it a good nugget for even myself to keep in the back of my mind? So that that kind of helps me I’ll also ask the question of what’s the objective for Land For Good and and who are your clients generally?

Kate Turcotte: 10:00

So, I mean, the objective we’re we’re actually celebrating, 20 years as an organization. And I think over the years, the, you know, the the mission has always been to help people with land transfer access and any sort of a transition that might be happening. And so, you know, I think we I think people consider us in the region as a, as a resource. It’s like a 1, you know, like I said, we have a lot of guidebooks. We offer workshops.

Kate Turcotte: 10:27

So we offer farm transition, sorry, farm succession workshops in schools. So in the winter time throughout the region, we have three day long classes to help, you know, with these bigger kind of like farm transition plans. And so, you know, so our our mission is to be resourceful. Yes. Exactly.

Kate Turcotte: 10:49

Yeah. So we’re gonna be offering one in Maine this this this winter, and we’ll be able to we don’t have the dates or the location nailed down yet, but we are gonna be offering 1 in Maine. And so you’ll be able to get my contact information if you’re interested. Please reach out because that’s also I think the one of the, you know, there’s we have a lot of webinars in smaller format, but this is really when people do farm succession school, what the farmers would say, what we hear from them is that it’s a really great way to work with people, work with service providers, but then also hear other people’s stories. I think that that’s 1 thing that not there’s not 1 succession story that’s the same.

Kate Turcotte: 11:22

And so hearing other people’s stories, knowing that you’re not alone, having that camaraderie in a cohort of people is, like, really, really valuable. And so I’m excited that, you know, we’re we’re gonna be doing those this winter. So but like I said, I think the objective in each state can be a little bit different because as we know, the 6 states are, you know, can be very different. But a lot of what, you know, we’re we try to do in here in Maine is help people navigate what resources are out there already and, also work 1 on 1 technical assistance as well through the farm transition process, also the farm access process. You know, some people, might be accessing land as beginning farmers or young farmers and, you know, helping them navigate that, you know, whether it’s helping to draft leases or come up with a business plan.

Kate Turcotte: 12:08

So these are all things that we help people with.

Glenda Pereira: 12:10

That’s fantastic. This is great. I I’m glad that you’re a resource for those folks because, you know, getting jumping into farming and starting up a business is not there’s a lot of complexity to it, so I’m super glad that folks have have you in their corner. And and that sort of kind of transitions into, our talk about the deer grazing apprenticeship. So as I mentioned in the beginning, you wear two hats.

Glenda Pereira: 12:36

You work with the dairy grazing apprenticeship and with Land For Good as well. But they kind of have a lot of overlap. Right? So for folks that don’t know, the dairy grazing apprenticeship is a program nationwide, and it’s in a lot of states. It’s not in every state in the U.S., but it’s in a lot of states.

Glenda Pereira: 12:52

And we we do have that program here in Maine. So we have mentors paired up with apprentices, and sometimes those apprentices are folks who have been in farming and they’re coming back. It’s it’s sometimes it’s folks who just wanna get into farming and little learn a lot more about this is obviously dairy specific and grazing specific. Right? It’s the dairy grazing apprenticeship.

Glenda Pereira: 13:13

But but we have a lot of diversity in the folks that are accessing and using the program, and it has an educational component. So people the the apprentices are able to take classes regarding dairy production and grazing. And then there’s there are some folks that actually go into the program looking to come out of it to enter, a dairy farm and and to obtain a business. And so there’s a couple of succession transition stories within the dairy grazing apprenticeship where that has happened. You know, the apprentice learns a lot from that farm that mentor farmer, then they can have you know, build that relationship because sometimes that’s really helpful for folks, especially those that don’t have a family member that’s coming back to the farm.

Glenda Pereira: 13:55

You know, they they wanna trust the person that their dairy cows are gonna be, you know, transitioning to. And and so this program kind of helps build and make that and connect, mentors and apprentices that are looking to have the same goal of, you know, we want that transition. And and so you as the education coordinator facilitate that conversation sometimes.

Kate Turcotte: 14:20

I was gonna say too, and that’s also something when we’re talking with mentor farmers, you know, 1 of the first questions that are asked, you know, whether they’re, you know, deciding to become a mentor farmer is what is your intention of entering to this program? Because it is, you know, it’s not just it’s it’s very it’s a different layer of compared to just having an employee. They need to be committed to education. They need to be committed to this, like, bigger picture. And so we always ask the mentor farmers, like, why do you wanna do the DGA program?

Kate Turcotte: 14:48

And, you know, some people, you know, do say that 1 of the reasons why they wanna do that is to find an identified successor. And so it also provides a really great kind of template to be able to try it out. Because I also think farming is, you know, farming is very different than other businesses and that many people there’s that that emotional kinda connection to it. A lot of people wanna stay, you know, they wanna retire at…

Kate Turcotte: 15:10

So really, you know, having that 2 year apprentice period during that time to figure out whether it’s a good fit, it’s a good match between the two people is a great model. And I think that’s one of the reasons why, you know, I was definitely really drawn to the program. And I think it’s really great is that it kind of is built in that time to kinda see how the two parties work together.

Glenda Pereira: 15:31

So so if if you’re looking to learn more about the program in Maine, definitely reach out to Kate, and I’ll drop in the show notes where you can learn more about this program. But so so as we wrap up here today, Kate, I wanted to ask you, what is a skill or a free tool that you can share with our listeners that can help them be better prepared for the future of their business regarding transition?

Kate Turcotte: 15:52

Well, I think that I mean, I I mean, maybe even just speaking to the generation that’s starting or either in their first, like few years of farming too just having that be in the back of your mind is whether this is someone that you’re be looking to transition. You know, is this a is this a farm that you want to see continue on to another generation? You know, there’s a lot of things that you have to consider, you know, whether it’s I mean, first of all, it’s very important than any farm transition that the business needs to be profitable. You it’s hard to transition a farm and a business where the numbers just don’t work, you know? And I think that as far as tools, I mean, at the end of the day, you know, there’s, I mean, I’ve been talking a lot about the feelings and the goals and the emotions.

Kate Turcotte: 16:31

At the end of the day, we do have to fall back in the numbers. The incoming generation needs to have a solid business plan. It doesn’t need to be the same business plan that the older generation did, but it needs to be solid based on numbers. And there’s so many great resources in Maine for business planning. We have, you know, SCORE, we have Coastal Enterprises.

Kate Turcotte: 16:49

MOFGA runs a great program for doing business planning. So that’s like I think that that’s, you know, a really just it’s important to think about that when you’re first starting because I think that that could change the way you might run a business, you know. It might change what you name your business, you know, all of these things. And I think that that’s just, just to begin, that’s a really important thing. But I think that, like I said, I think that having a really solid, really solid numbers, you know, understanding, that when you are transitioning your business that you need to be able to look back over a number of years and look at your profit and loss and everything like that.

Kate Turcotte: 17:26

And so, I mean, I think that there’s a lot of free tools out there for for this. And like I said, in May, I named some of the resources that we have for for business planning. And I will say, like, I’ve and as, going back to our website, we have a lot of resources, a lot of work books as well, that are free and available on the Land For Good website. And so I encourage people to check that out. We divide the website resources into people who are looking to access farmland, people who are looking to make farmland available, and that might be farming landowners or non farming landowners.

Kate Turcotte: 17:57

A lot of people in the state of Maine bought a house and then they happen to figure out that they also have a really great field that could be used for pasturing. And so we also like to connect with those people on Maine because that is, you know, there’s there’s people there who wanna, you know, aren’t farming themselves, but wanna see their land be productive and used. And then we also the third section is for farm transition stuff. So there’s a lot of I mean, and not just workbooks, there’s webinar recordings, there’s other resources from other universities and other nonprofits and stuff like that. And so and it’s all free.

Kate Turcotte: 18:27

And then like I said, anyone can reach out to to me. There’s if you go onto the website, there’s an inquiry form. And if you click main, you’ll be directed to me and stuff like that. So and, again, just just talking 1 on 1 sometimes, and that’s and that’s we provide that free service. So people can always reach out to me just to talk about that.

Glenda Pereira: 18:45

That’s fantastic. And, yeah, I think as we near the end of this episode, this is a great transition. So Kate can be the first step, onto building your team. Right? That that team’s not just gonna be 1 person just like your dairy production team.

Glenda Pereira: 18:58

Right? You have your veterinarian. You have your herds person. You have the people who might be in the parlor. You have your nutritionist.

Glenda Pereira: 19:05

You have your milk quality folks. So there’s a team of people similar in in the transition world for you, Kate, that, you know, and you can be sort of the first step in helping those folks to build that team. So I will share these these links and your contact information with folks in the show notes so that they have a place to begin on this transition journey. Thank you so much for joining us today, Kate. It was wonderful to hear from you, and I’m super happy that you’re here in Maine and you chose us and to come work with us.

Glenda Pereira: 19:37

And I know listeners and folks will look forward to reaching out and connecting with you if they need you as a resource.

Kate Turcotte: 19:46

Great. Well, thank you so much for having me.

Glenda Pereira: 19:48

Alright. See you later.

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