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Starting the conversation on succession as it moves up the farming agenda

Succession planning has moved up the agenda for many farmers as the industry looks to secure the future for the next generation.

Sian Bushell of Sian Bushell Associates.
Sian Bushell of Sian Bushell Associates.
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Starting the conversation on succession as it moves up the farming agenda

But failing to plan ahead could cause big misunderstandings and frustration for the whole family.

 

With the big changes expected in the industry over the coming years, Sian Bushell from Sian Bushell Associates, who advises families on succession planning, said the industry needed new thinking – and that it was never too early to start planning ahead.

 

“It needs to encourage young people in,” Ms Bushell said. “I had a family meeting last year and they had three children under the age of five.

 

“They were thinking about it then, asking what happened if all three of them wanted to farm. Should we be growing the farm for them?


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“Should we have assets off farm which can be given to any of them who do not want to farm?”

 

The earlier the planning started, Ms Bushell said, the more options there were available.

 

“One of the things parents worry about is that they want to be fair,” she said. “But you do not need to be equitable to be fair.

 

“If a farm is worth £1 million, it does not mean you need to give £1m to those who are not wanting to farm. The one who is farming has not got £1m in their pocket.”

 

Conversation

And it was not just about what was left to children in the will, but their role in the family business now and the older generation’s plan for retirement.

 

Ms Bushell said: “The older generation will get to a stage of thinking ‘I cannot do this anymore’.

 

“They need to be bringing the next generation in. There has to be a plan of when they are going to have overall responsibility.”

 

Ms Bushell highlighted the frustration of next generation farmers who were in their 50s and working on the farm but had no responsibility.

 

“They could not even sign a cheque,” she said.

 

It was also important to discuss how the parents were going to live – as well as where everyone was going to live – with rural housing being so expensive.

 

“You cannot expect someone to move away from where they have lived all their lives to 20-miles away,” she said.

 

The conversation needed to be had when the child came back to the farm, to decide whether the older generation wanted them working there or if it would be more beneficial for them to go away and work elsewhere.

She advised farmers to start the conversation by sitting down as a family.

 

“Get everybody around the table,” Ms Bushell said. “They all have to be there or they will feel like something is being decided behind their back.”

 

It was however often beneficial to have the conversation in a neutral venue, where the family would not be disturbed and where it would allow everyone to speak up and say where they would like to be in 10 years’ time.

 

Ms Bushell said: “Often people assume they know what family members want and this can lead to some big shocks.”

 

Consequences of avoiding the conversation could be family splits, because people were not aware or did not understand what was going on, she said.

 

There was also a danger that the older generation would start winding down the business and the farm as they looked to slow down, despite their children wanting to take over the farm.

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