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‘Failure to manage succession is putting the future of British farms at risk’

Leading agricultural expert, Professor Matt Lobley called for farmers to re-think their succession planning by separating farm ownership from management of the business.


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Manage family farms like football clubs to survive in a tough world market, said Professor Lobley
Manage family farms like football clubs to survive in a tough world market, said Professor Lobley

 

Speaking at a British Guild of Agricultural Journalists event, Prof Lobley said planning the future of farm businesses could be made less daunting and be more readily managed if management and ownership are considered separately, similar to how football clubs are run.

 

He said: “Football clubs are constantly changing managers. Each new manager is the successor to the previous occupier of that position but ownership of the club hasn’t changed.

 

“While farms and football clubs are very different organisations, the UK agricultural sector needs to face up to the succession challenge.”

 

Understanding most farms are family homes and businesses, Professor Lobley said succession planning can be a difficult challenge involving multiple generations and a desire to avoid conflict.

 

He warned that while significant managerial responsibility was important for farmer businesses, waiting until farmers were in their 50s was not attractive to prospective successors.

 

In order to recruit the best people, farming has to be an appealing career choice, explained Prof Lobley.

 

He said: “Planning the future of the farm means having potentially difficult conversations. However, failing to make plans in a timely manner risks breaking up both the business and potentially, the family.”

 

It came as legal firm Rubric warned too many farm businesses were ’held back’ from making long-term progress due to a lack of proper succession planning.

 

“We are increasingly finding that farm businesses, especially those with several generations involved, are avoiding difficult discussions at the expense of setting clear long-term objectives,” said James Howell, a partner in the firm.

 

"This all-too-common lack of transparency can result in huge stress and have a significant impact on business progress.

 

“Factors such as who takes responsibility for the business, how older generations are provided for and how to treat family members fairly can make the whole process of succession very emotionally charged and, as a result, many farmers simply ignore it.”

 

  • NFU Mutual is funding a project at Cornwall’s Rural Business School and the University of Exeter’s Centre for Rural Policy Research to help farmers make effective succession plans. The project will include a series of seminars around the UK in 2016 to provide farmers with information on the options available to them to hand on their farms while treating all family members fairly.


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