Mike Rankin
Everyone can define their youth by a decade, and mine was the 1960s. For perspective, movies set within those 10 years span “The Sandlot” to “Easy Rider” to “Good Morning, Vietnam.”

In those days, my childhood mind wasn’t set on the Cuban Missile Crisis or the initial deployments to Southeast Asia. I was more focused on when the next series of Topps baseball cards would arrive at Nall’s Drug Store.

Those 5-cent wax packs, filled with five cards and a flat piece of bubblegum, were like gold to me. My friend and I traded cards, played imaginary baseball games with them, and kept meticulous records of which cards were still needed. Added to my pre-high school collection over some of my subsequent adult years were more cards, and now there are a few thousand tucked away in boxes and binders.

A Nolan Ryan rookie card . . . yes, I’ve got it. The same is true for Johnny Bench, Rod Carew, Bob Gibson, and many others. None of the old ones are graded or in mint condition, but they’re not in bad condition either. The value of baseball cards, like stocks and land, has gone up and down throughout my lifetime; however, the thought of selling them has never crossed my mind. My baseball cards are who I am — selling them would be like selling my soul.

What has crossed my mind lately is what will eventually happen to my cards? After all, everyone has a final at bat. Will any of my grown kids or their kids have any interest in keeping them around or be able to extract the enjoyment out of them that I’ve had? Probably not; it would be impossible to do so. Perhaps, they’ll just cash out. It’s a fluid situation at this point.

Baseball cards are one thing, but a ranch or farm is quite another.

In my many years as an extension agent, I can’t tell you how many situations I was pulled into where internal family strife was imminent or had already begun regarding the future of the family’s farm. Often, one or more siblings wanted to sell while others desired to keep the farm in the family. Sometimes, there was already a sibling heavily involved in running the operation after the parents had passed on, but with little equity.

Unfortunately, there are many situations where the parents aren’t ready to let go of the management and/or ownership of the family farm until the proverbial horse has left the barn. When it becomes too late, what often ensues is an internal civil war, or more accurately described as an uncivil war, that could have been avoided with earlier discussions.

These kinds of situations are heartbreaking. On the flip side, there are those farmers and ranchers who start succession discussions early when decisions can be made with thoughtful consideration rather than intense emotion.

Last summer, our editorial intern, Amber Friedrichsen, and I pulled up to the farm shop of Malecha Enterprises. It was there that we met Todd Malecha and his son, William. This had all the makings of a typical dairy-forage interview and a resulting farm feature article. Amber’s story can be read starting on page 6, but the interview wasn’t typical.

Before I could ask a question about the nuts and bolts of their farm’s alfalfa program and custom forage harvesting business, Todd began our conversation by pointing to a sign on the wall that read “Malecha Enterprises Company Values.” These values were: drive, responsible, candor, trust, fun, integrity, empathy, and a commitment to constant and never-ending improvement. The father of seven children then stated matter-of-factly, “Every decision we make on this farm is with an eye toward the future.”

The Malechas had brought in third-party advisers to help with a succession and business plan. Without spoiling Amber’s story, they had set up new enterprises to make sure the five interested siblings had a management role and could grow their own future within the confines of the family business. They meet every week and evaluate each other’s progress. They agree and probably disagree, but everyone knows what direction the boat is sailing and why.

I’m pretty confident the Malecha kids won’t be calling their extension agent while wielding a farm succession fight card anytime in the future. They’ve got it figured out. As for me, it might be time for a family baseball card meeting.

This article appeared in the March 2022 issue of Hay & Forage Grower on page 4.

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