Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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March 6, 2010

Sullivan’s Salvos 3/9/10

There is a change coming to rural parts of the US, including the rural portions of Johnson County. This is a quiet, slow-moving, and devastating change. No, it is not disease, insects, or some other plague. It is wealth transfer.

Most folks do not realize it, but the US is undergoing the most massive transfer of wealth in the history of the planet. There are lots of people in their 80s and older, and many of them are nearing the end of life. As they age, their assets are being passed down to the next generation. On the farm, this becomes a huge problem.

For the most part, the folks inheriting the wealth are not farmers, and they do not live in the small communities where the farm sits. Why does that matter?

Let’s use a hypothetical Lone Tree couple as an example. While this is all made up, the example should ring true. You have an 85-year-old couple who farmed 300 acres outside of Lone Tree their whole lives. They have two adult children – a son in Des Moines and a daughter in Chicago. Five adult grandkids are spread around the US.

The Dad coached little league, spent ten years on the Board of the local F&M bank, served twenty years as a Fremont Township Trustee, and is a member of the Lone Tree American Legion. The Mom was a Cub Scout Den Mother, a 4H leader, a Deacon in the Presbyterian Church, and a regular volunteer with Lone Tree Schools and Pioneer Village.

The couple was active in church activities, and even in older age could be counted on to support every school fundraiser. They had a blast selling tomatoes and sweet corn at the Lone Tree Farmer’s Market. Every time the Lone Tree Volunteer Fire Department held a pancake breakfast or chili supper, they slipped an extra $20 into the donation box.

After long, full, wonderful lives, they pass away. The children in Des Moines and Chicago are in the final ten years of their own careers; they cannot drop everything to return to Fremont Township to farm. The 5 grandkids do not know anything about farming, and the idea of living in rural Iowa scares them.

So, the son in Des Moines decides to sell his half. The daughter in Chicago just cannot bear to sell the family farm, so she decides to hire a farm manager and rent out her half.

But who gets what? Mom & Dad never really spelled it out. About half of the ground is prime farmland, a quarter was hay and pasture, and a quarter included the house, barns, and some woods. The daughter wants to keep the house, but also wants the good land, because the rest is much tougher to rent. The son wants to sell the good farmland, because it will bring a better price. They end up chunking the family farm into three sections, two of which are sold and one that is rented.

The son gets $600,000 cash after the sale. He pays off his house in Des Moines, buys a new car in Urbandale, and gives $20,000 to each of his three kids. Even after all that, he has plenty to put in his Des Moines-based bank.

The daughter gets $100,000 cash, and begins renting the land. A local farmer pays cash rent to her. All the money is deposited in her Chicago-based bank.

Can you see what happened? The land is still in Fremont Township, but the money is all gone. Money now flows from Fremont Township to Chicago. The monetary capital has been transferred.

Perhaps even more importantly, the Legion lost a member; the bank and restaurant lost customers; the fire department lost donors; and the school, nursing home, and church lost volunteers. The human capital is gone.

I used a fictional couple and Lone Tree as examples, but this scenario is playing out all over the Midwest. Unfortunately, the story is often sad, and there are no good solutions.

What can we take away from this? I hope that younger locals will recognize how much this couple has contributed to the community, and do their best to pick up the slack. Meanwhile, if you have ideas, please share them. I think we need good suggestions in order to avert a real crisis.

The Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County is currently accepting donations of new or used baseball and softball equipment for boys and girls age 5 to 13. Items can be dropped off at 2105 Broadway St. in Iowa City, or contact James (354-7989; ) to arrange for a pick-up.

Needed equipment includes: Mitts (gloves), right and left-handed. Batting gloves. Stirrups or stirrup socks. Regulation Bats. Baseball shoes (rubber cleats). Equipment/bat bags. Regulation sliding shorts and kneepads (required for girls in softball). Baseball pants.

Please donate and help a child make the most of his/her little league experience.

DID YOU KNOW? The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office took 23,000 911 calls in 2009.

Anyone interested in learning more about County government should take a look at the County website-

"Sullivan’s Salvos" is sent once per week to any interested party. It will give a brief update on issues of interest to Johnson County residents.

These messages come solely from Rod Sullivan, and neither represents the viewpoints of the whole Board of Supervisors nor those of groups or individuals otherwise mentioned.

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As always, feel free to contact me at 354-7199 or I look forward to serving you!



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