Dairy farmers Bryony and Robert Symms are planning to ensure their son, Jake, is ready when he takes over the business one day.
The Symms family has long recognised the need to plan the succession of their farm. Jake Symms, 22, says: “Mum and dad have planned what they’re doing. You hear a lot of stories and they don’t want us to all fall out over a bit of land.”
Jake farms with his mum, Bryony, and dad, Robert, near Sherborne, Dorset.
He’s gradually taking on more responsibility on the 220-head dairy unit so that he’s prepared when he takes over the business and assets when they retire in 10 to 15 years.
The development of Jake’s skills and responsibilities – which currently include breeding, feeding and costings – are part of a well-managed, progressive plan.
Bryony says: “We’ve very much got an eye on the future in terms of what Jake’s going to have to be able to do once we’re no longer here or working.”
For example, Jake is gradually taking on more responsibility for the milking and has been on an artificial insemination course, since Robert has always done these two things.
He’s also been part of The Co-operative supermarket’s Pioneers Programme for young farmers, where he has been developing skills like business management.
Bryony and Robert are determined to be financially independent when they retire and Jake will lose a significant part of the farm’s workforce.
“In farming in particular, people think ‘our farm will be our pension’,” says Bryony. “But two years ago, our solicitor’s did a talk about succession planning and it really made us think about the fact.
Jake would need to able to pay other people and himself – not us as well.
“We’re trying to throw as much as possible into our pensions,” says Bryony. “We’ve got a very good accountant and an adviser came recently to talk about pensions, including Jake’s.”
For their three non-farming daughters, the couple have set-up pensions and insurance policies, which will pay out on their death, and they’re considering giving them a piece of land which they can let to Jake.
Having all of this out in the open, is really important, says Bryony.
“We’ve tried to be as open about it as possible, discussing it with them all as we go along. We’re very upfront about plans so they don’t think something else will happen.”
Knowing what’s happening and that he will one day take over the farm gives Jake the freedom to plan what he wants to do with the business – such as improving the genetics of the herd or investing in robotic milking – rather than waiting 30 years.
“It would be so stressful if I didn’t know what was going on or whether I’d have a business to work on in the future,” says Jake. “Mum and dad are very supportive – if I ask a question they’re more than happy to let me know the answer. They’re both very proactive at saying what’s going on.”
Shape Your Farming Future is a series of informative and practical guides looking in-depth at issues pertinent to farmers when planning for the future.