Creating A Statewide Campus, Making A Difference For Iowans

It’s tough to get into Melissa O’Rourke and Kelvin Leibold’s class. There is often a waiting list. The course, Evaluating Your Estate Plan, doesn’t appear in the Iowa State University course catalog. It isn’t offered on campus and their students are not traditional students.

O’Rourke and Leibold are farm management specialists with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach—part of an Iowa State team of educators who create course materials and deliver them as programs across Iowa to people who want farm management education and information. They carry out the Extension and Outreach core purpose of monitoring the needs of Iowans and developing educational materials to provide research based programs and resources to address those needs.

“In just two years, Evaluating Your Estate Plan has become a highly successful program because it fills a need we repeatedly heard from clients,” says O’Rourke. “The things we heard indicated an information gap, unwarranted fears of taxation and the need for knowledge and education.”

David Kading, an Iowa farmer from Casey, had questions. He attended Evaluating Your Estate Plan the first time to help his dad get a few things “squared away.” He returned to the course a second time with his daughter and a third time with his son and daughter-in-law because he was determined to create his own estate plan and wanted to involve and openly communicate with his family about the plan.

“The instructors gave me the push I needed to put things in order and helped me understand what I needed to think about, the decisions I needed to make regarding my estate,” says Kading. Since attending the course he has updated his will, established general and medical powers of attorney and given concentrated thought to his estate planning.

O’Rourke and Leibold are members of the Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) farm management team with ISU Extension and Outreach. The 15-member team, like all ANR work teams, consists of ISU Extension and Outreach faculty and staff located on campus and program specialists located around the state. Along with O’Rourke and Leibold, it took the expertise of farm management team members Tim Eggers and Ann Johanns and economics professor Georgeanne Artz to develop the Evaluating Your Estate Plan curriculum.

Chad Hart, team leader and extension crop markets economist, says there are fairly low walls within his team and they work campus-to-field and field-to-campus when creating and providing resources for sound agricultural decision making.

Hart and Lee Schulz, livestock markets economist, depend on team members around the state to promote and help present the Pro Ag Series of informative meetings offered to agricultural lenders every November. “County extension staff and farm management specialists are important when it comes to organizing the meetings, finding venues and contacting audiences for our programs,” says Hart. “Our people around the state know who needs and wants our information. They have the contacts and skills to bring people together and the campus team members depend on them.”

Hart says his team responds to the educational needs of Iowa farmers and agribusiness professionals with a multipronged approach by offering face-to-face meetings, making educational videos and presentations available on the Web, writing information files, fact sheets and spreadsheets and sharing them through Ag Decision Maker and the Extension Online Store.

Online library is always open

Managing farm finances—things like evaluating estate plans—is complicated business. Managing the information to help farmers make financial decisions also would be overwhelming if it weren’t for Ag Decision Maker and the farm management team.

Don Hofstrand, retired extension specialist, started Ag Decision Maker in 1979 as a small, convenient folder of reference files for extension farm management specialists. As the need to regularly update the files became evident, so did the need to add more information files and to share the contents with a broader audience. The folder grew and became the three-inch dark maroon Ag Decision Maker binder filled with printed information files. In 2001 Ag Decision Maker added a website—and today is one of the most frequently visited ISU Extension and Outreach websites.

“Ag Decision Maker information is used by farmers, lenders, farm managers, agriculture instructors and others involved in agriculture,” says Ann Johanns, Ag Decision Maker coordinator and extension farm management team member. “Our team creates a wide range of business information and tools that are used in our educational programs on marketing, leasing, land values, legal issues, costs and returns and new business development. Our library of resources is open to anyone, at any time.”

Farm management team members are the main contributors to the Ag Decision Maker online library of resources. They also rely on expertise across Iowa State University and within the farm financial industry to build and maintain the resources contained within their agricultural economics and business website and used during educational programs.

The Evaluate Your Estate Plan materials are available online at Ag Decision Maker. When David Kading talks to his son in Colorado about the estate plan he is creating, his son can access the materials online. He doesn’t have to be in Iowa to benefit from the program. The Kadings still may have questions and they may be similar to those that other farm families are asking. If so, they may be influencing the next series of farm management educational programs and decision-making information files and spreadsheets.

“When Extension and Outreach helps people do for themselves we achieve the greatest results,” says Hart. “Extension and Outreach is about people. Education is our mission. That’s the whole point of a land-grant university—making a difference for Iowans.”