HARRISVILLE — For Jerry Kahn and his long-term partner, Michelle Glazier, it’s time to pass down the farm. Their days of raising rainbow, brook and brown trout are behind them.
However, a respiratory disease stands in their way — COVID-19.
What seemed like a conclusion just weeks ago is now rearing its ugly head in Kahn’s direction, delaying the succession of Cedarbrook Trout Farms to James, Michelle Glazier’s son, and leaving the future of the 91-year-old farm in question. According to the family, the farm could see losses of some of its biggest clients this summer due to the pandemic.
“A lot of our business is tourism,” said Kahn, 76, whose farm is located off U.S. 23 near Lake Huron. “People drive up to see our sign; they come up and get to fish. But we’ve got to change that this year because of COVID-19.”
Charter fishing in Michigan’s coastal communities generated $23 million in 2016, according to research from Michigan State University Extension. Cedarbrook Trout Farms’ current construction of a two-story, 525-square-foot processing facility would allow them to cater to the heavily touristed area by processing and selling fresh, frozen, and smoked trout.
Kahn thought he was setting James Glazier up to succeed when he left the business.
In stepped outside forces.
“If we can’t stock fish will we be able to sell fish for food (in the new building)?” Michelle Glazier said. “The completion of the building’s put a fire under us to get all these things in place for James, but with COVID-19, it makes communication more challenging.”
Cedarbrook generates 25% of its income annually from public fishing and 75% from the recreational stocking of public and private ponds, lakes and streams. Kahn said he’s concerned about the farm — about transitioning it over to James Glazier, 35, who’s worked there for 15 years.
“We want to make the transition as easy as possible for James,” Kahn said. “A couple of my big accounts rely on tourism. … They’re probably not going to order those fish this year, so that’s going to put us in a little bit of a bind.”
Despite hiccups and hurdles and immoveable forces at play for the trout farm, attorney Allison Eicher said continued communication remains crucial for the succession plan to work.
“Do as much conversation as you can within your own family, given your restrictions, and then find a way to talk to James via video chat or a phone call just to make sure that everyone understands what the plan is,” said Eicher, an attorney for Michigan Farm Bureau Family of Companies. “It’s important to have these conversations so that all of the concerns can be brought to an attorney. So, have internal conversations as much as possible.
“Even if you can’t meet face-to-face, find a way to do a Zoom meeting.”
Zoom is a free video-conferencing resource that attorneys, schools, and companies use to converse face-to-face. Other resources available to Michigan farmers can be found here.
“If this (succession plan) is something that you want to move forward with quickly, and you don’t want to wait until the economy opens up again, reach out to an estate planning attorney,” Eicher said. “If you can find one who has some knowledge of ag background, which Farm Bureau does include on their website, find an attorney who you can talk to.”
Eicher recommends participating in internal conversations and then reaching out to attorneys to find someone with the background you want.
Kahn and Michelle Glazier are currently communicating with a local lawyer and their certified public accountant. The farm is operated as a sole proprietorship, a type of enterprise that is owned and run by one person, which Kahn would like changed to a limited liability corporation.
Conversation with James Glazier started a few years ago before entering a hold-up period due to “being busy,” Michelle Glazier said. The only thing standing in the farm’s way now is COVID-19, she said.
“For sure the virus has accelerated things,” Michelle Glazier said. “It’s terrifying.”
Michigan Farm Bureau and Michigan Farm News are committed to providing its members and readers with the latest news and information on the COVID-19 pandemic. For news, updates and resources, visit https://www.michfb.com/MI/Coronavirus/. The page will be updated daily as more information becomes available.