Ayrshire dairy farmer Bryce Cunningham has had more unexpected life events to cope with than most, but the forward planning of his family helped him devise a way through.
He had been away from the 89-hectare (220-acre) tenanted family farm for 10 years, working for MercedesBenz, when his mother rang to say his grandfather was ill and could not continue to work on the farm, and she was worried there was something wrong with his father, Robert, who had begun forgetting things.
Bryce took a break from work to help out, but never went back to his job.
Within three months his grandfather died, his grandmother fell ill and the family discovered Robert had terminal cancer.
Sadly, a year later, Robert died too.
At the same time, the dairy crises sent the farm’s milk price from 29ppl to 9ppl within a year, causing £100,000 of losses.
Bryce says: “The bank was asking for money and everything pointed to bankruptcy.”
Luckily, the family had put in place all it could – his father and grandfather had wills, his father had life insurance, they had partnership agreements which passed their business shares to Bryce, and his father had power of attorney over his grandfather.
“These plans helped give me guidance and we were able to draw up a family agreement,” he says.
“We all sat down together, me, my mum, sisters and aunts, it was a massive task.”
This gave him the basis to change the business.
Bryce decided to escape the commodity market, go organic and start bottling and selling the farm’s nonhomogenised milk direct.
This saved the business.
With a young son, it also forced Bryce to plan.
He says: “I went straight to a solicitor to create a will and to talk to a life insurance adviser.
Dad’s life insurance does not cover the debt, but I found that if he had been paying just a little bit more each month it would have made a big difference.
I also wish we had sat down together when he was alive and really talked about whether we could go organic.
He had always shot down my idea but I saw him struggling his whole life with a high production system.”
“You cannot plan for every eventuality, my family obviously had not planned for my father to pass away before my grandparents, but if the average family farm had been set up how we were then I dare say they would have been okay.
“Farming families need to understand what each individual wants from the business.
“Sit down and talk about it. It is really important.”