Suppose someone dropped a million dollars in your bank account tomorrow, the only catch being that you'd have to spend it on your farming operation. What would you buy?
We presented that challenge to some of our Team FIN farmers. After a few reflective insights and wiseacre remarks (“I'd keep farming until it was gone!”), team members got down to business and listed their highest-priority purchases. Land, equipment, tools and hired labor figured prominently.
And even though this was supposed to be a fun exercise, most of the guys we talked with couldn't help getting serious by worrying about the downside — everything from taxes to paying off debt, and what the neighbors might think if their lifestyle changed.
This is more than just idle fantasy for more folks than you might realize. In her 318-page book Sudden Money, Managing a Financial Windfall, certified financial planner Susan Bradley notes that the largest transfer of wealth in the history of America is now taking place in the form of inheritance, insurance settlements and stock options. Bradley covers legal, practical and personal considerations in her book. It's worth checking out when your ship comes in.
In the meantime, here's what Team FIN had to say about what they'd do with big money on their farms.
Kent Lock, Avon, IL
“A $1 million windfall? After taxes and tithing, that hypothetically leaves $750,000,” Lock says. “My biggest concern about receiving a windfall would be to keep myself from becoming overly proud, pretentious or vain. The ideal situation for me would be to receive the windfall and not have any neighbors notice a change in my lifestyle.”
Lock says paying off mortgage and machinery debt would be his first priority. Here's what he'd buy with any money left after taking care of those obligations:
New GM 1-ton pickup with flatbed, diesel engine and manual transmission to replace 12-year-old half-ton with 180,000 miles. “I have to buy a GM product to utilize my GM credit card points. My total cost would be about $25,000,” Lock says.
More farmland, but purchase price not to exceed $300,000
New John Deere 7810 MFD tractor with duals, telescoping mirrors and deluxe cab — $78,000
Loader for John Deere 7810 — $6,500
Ruger Blackhawk 357 magnum stainless revolver with 5-in. barrel (handy for making coyotes run scared) — $500
Either a Merrit or Cornhusker 42-ft. hopper-bottom grain trailer with aluminum wheels and roll tarp — $25,000
Meyer or H&S feeder wagon for feeding big round bales — $2,000
“If I had just a $1,000 windfall, I'd probably see if it would be enough to send the four of us to Disneyland,” Lock says. “With $100, I might buy some decent steel-toed safety boots. With any money left over, I would buy the newest CD from Collective Soul.”
And what would Lock buy with a $10 windfall? “A decent set of screw drivers.”
Daryl Bridenbaugh, Pandora, OH
Bridenbaugh was one of the few farmers who took our challenge in the spirit in which it was intended. His hypothetical shopping spree burned through the faux dollars fast. At least he had fun and was thoughtful enough to include a gift for his wife.
“With $1 million, I'd first buy some prime farm ground and some well-conceived livestock barns,” Bridenbaugh says. “Now for the fun things! How about a Morton energy performer shop and machinery shed?
“For machinery, I'd buy John Deere's 8020 series tractor with suspension seat and MFWD suspension. Also, I'd buy a Cat MT series track machine with the improved undercarriage suspension and ‘Marshmallow’ pads between the undercarriage and tractor frame. If there was any money left, I might buy a Bobcat A series loader with suspension seat, cab, heater, air conditioning and backhoe attachment.
“For my wife, I'd buy a purple Kenworth ‘anteater’ truck with aluminum grain trailer.”
Steve Webb, Needham, IN
Webb decided to start small and work his way up. “With $100, I would consider buying a new battery for my wife's tractor. She is grouchy all day after she has to start it with the crank. I will think about some of the really big amounts ($1,000) while I shell corn this afternoon.”
Joking aside (at least we hope he was joking), Webb called back after the corn was done and gave some different answers. “With $1 million, the first thing that crossed my mind is that there would be a gift tax that the giver would have to pay, so I'd end up getting only a portion of the money. With what's left of that, I can more easily tell you what I would not do with the money.
“I really wouldn't set out to buy all-new machinery and reequip the farm. As with many of the farmers around here, if I say I can't afford something, it's not necessarily because I don't have the money. I just can't justify the cost based on expected return. You'd be surprised: There are quite a few third-generation farmers who have that million, but you'd never know it because they don't operate with a lot of flash.”
Webb admits that his preference for used equipment has a downside. “There's always something that needs repair, so it's hard to get away for a nice vacation. With a million dollars, I might take some of the money and hire a good mechanic to keep things running so Connie and I could take a month off and go somewhere. Somewhere like…Iowa.”
Once in Iowa, Webb would do some serious land shopping in hopes of relocating the farm. “Urban sprawl is a big concern in our part of Indiana,” he explains. “Some land is going for $25,000 to $30,000 an acre in development parcels for industrial parks and residential subdivisions. You might think farmers could just sell their land and get rich, but if the land has been in the family for a long time and granddad bought it for $10 an acre, the capital gains tax is terrible.
“I might consider an in-kind trade, exchanging my farm for land in a place where there's less urban pressure. I've been looking at western Iowa as one possibility. A million dollars could sure help in managing such a move.”
As for tools, Webb says he'd like to update his shop and maybe buy a $10,000 ironworker machine for equipment repairs, which he needs to make often on his used machinery.
Bob Wietharn, Clay Center, KS
“I will start with the smallest or least expensive item first,” Wietharn says. “I have just built a new shop so I could buy lots of tools to round it out ($10 to $10,000). I need a tool chest, wrenches, air compressor, band saw, milling machine, lathe, etc.
“The next largest item would be a self-contained storage facility for liquid and dry fertilizer in a completely covered building ($30,000 to $50,000).
“The next largest item would be a self-propelled sprayer ($100,000 to $150,000). With what was left, I would pay off debt and invest in real-estate to further broaden my income.”
What would you do with a million? See more Team FIN answers at www.farmindustrynews.com. Then take our million-dollar survey online. Sorry, we can't give you a million dollars. But 10 lucky entrants will win a Farm Industry News mug, provided we can find the money in our budget to get some made.