Guest column: Your family farm can benefit the future

Published 8:45 pm Friday, April 28, 2023

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Guest column by Tim Penny

Tim Penny

As president of Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation I travel across our region nearly every day visiting people and places in the 20 counties that we serve. Over the 16 years that I have worked at SMIF, I have watched farming practices change and adapt. As someone who comes from a farming family, I know what it is like to feel rooted to the land, and how heartbreaking it is to see productive land used for anything but farming.

Fortunately, for those who do not have an heir to transfer the land to when the time comes, SMIF has a program to help safeguard the family legacy and keep their farmland in production. SMIF’s Acres for Good program allows farm families to donate their land as a charitable gift. What makes this model unique is that rather than liquidate the asset as most charities do, SMIF will retain the land and keep it in production by a rental arrangement. This allows retiring farmers the peace of mind that their land will continue to be farmed.

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What does it mean to give farmland as a gift? There are three options. You can give a gift during your lifetime and you would get a charitable deduction on income tax. You can wait and give it in your will and it would be released to SMIF upon your passing. Or you can opt for a retained life estate where you keep the right to farm the land until you pass and then it automatically becomes a charitable gift at that point. For those who only want to donate a section of their property, SMIF can accommodate that preference, as well.

As the name suggests, the Acres for Good program is also a way to do good things for your community. The net income stream from the land can be used to support southern Minnesota communities well into the future. Farmers can choose how they want to allocate their gift of land through this program. There are several options.

For example, the benefit can go toward one of SMIF’s 31 community foundations (Pine Island and Lonsdale are our newest foundations), which invest in their communities through grants and programs.

Or, for a region-wide reach, farmers can allocate their gift toward SMIF’s general endowment, or SMIF’s specific funds which support youth and entrepreneurs in the region.

Another option could be setting up a Donor Advised Fund to allocate resources to the donor’s specific interests such as a place of worship, an alma mater or a local charity. Whichever avenue, these are all ways to leave a legacy that will make a huge difference in the future of southern Minnesota —and doing it all without having your family farm sold.

Acres for Good is an incredibly unique way to donate and preserve farmland while also creating an ongoing stream of charitable funds to help out your local community or a cause that is dear to your heart. SMIF is here to help you create your ongoing legacy.

To learn more about the Acres for Good program visit or contact Alissa Oeltjenbruns, philanthropy officer, at 507-214-7023 or

As always, I welcome your comments and questions. You can reach me at or 507-455-3215.

Tim Penny is the president and CEO of Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation. He represented Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1982 to 1994.