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Sustainably Transferring Land to Generation “NEXT”


May 17, 2011 – Virginia is poised to see one of the greatest shifts in forest landownership since the Kings’ Grants. An aging baby boomer generation now owns the majority of Virginia’s woodlands. Forty-one percent of private forest landowners are at least 65 years old and own a combined 10 million acres of forest land. Many are preparing to pass that land on to members of the next generation, whether they are ready for it or not.

Unfortunately, high land values and taxes force many heirs to sell inherited property to meet financial obligations, contributing to a loss of 27,000 forested acres per year. Proper estate planning, however, can help reduce this number and mitigate the tax burden. Without a plan, the sustainability of land ownership and natural resources are threatened as the pres- sure to sell, subdivide, and develop increases. “All the best science and practice of sustainable forest resource management mean nothing if the resource is sold, divided, developed, or otherwise transitions from viable forestland,” said Adam Downing, forestry Extension agent.

Focusing on Land Transfer to Generation “NEXT” is making a difference by helping families make plans for managing their estates. Downing and Mike Santucci, forest conservation specialist with the Virginia Department of Forestry, developed the idea for this high-impact course, which has enabled landowners to better articulate their land transfer goals and begin planning for the future of their forests. Over the past two years, the 12-hour short course has graduated 79 individuals representing 44 family units. Participants estimated an average family savings of $750,000 as a result of the program, and follow-up surveys revealed that over 90 percent of participants had begun estate planning in the six months following the course. As these landowners continue executing their plans, over 6,800 acres of land are expected to remain sustainable and family owned.

“As a result of either not knowing their options or an unwillingness to do the hard work of succession planning,” Santucci added, “many families will end up either losing their land or dividing it up so small it’s only a building lot, but it doesn’t have to be that way.” In addition to Santucci, Downing, and other Extension agents, partners in this effort include the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Farm Transition grant program, the Piedmont Environmental Council, Farm Credit, the Ballyshannon Fund, and the Southern Risk Management Education Center.


    CNRE Newsmagazine Spring 2011 Cover

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