A young generation of farmers is being given new help to broach the delicate matter of business succession plans with their families.
Many young farmers face difficult discussions at home about the future of family enterprises and too often the whole issue is ignored and leads to problems, the National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs (NFYFC) said.
As previously reported in The Yorkshire Post, anecdotal evidence suggests that one in four UK farming families are not speaking to one of their own due arguments about who takes over the farm in the future.
To help breakdown the barriers and remove the stigma, the Federation has developed a new training course which has been backed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
David Goodwin, chairman of agriculture and rural issues at the NFYFC, said: “Many young farmers are facing difficult discussions with their families and this training module gives a great insight to why the topic is so important, what can happen if the subject isn’t broached and also how it applies to any business or even a Young Farmers’ Club.
“We can’t emphasise enough the importance of communication for tackling succession issues.”
In a short film promoted by the Federation, families are advised to talk about succession plans as early as possible.
Parents are advised not to assume that a son will take the farm on in future, when it may be the daughter.
Families are also warned that they need have a proper conversation about the aspirations of younger family members to grasp what the future may hold, and any siblings who will not be involved in taking on the business should still be included in any discussions because of their likely emotional attachment to the farm.
The film’s narrator, business management consultant Siân Bushell, says older generations have a responsibility to initiate succession conversations, but young people too can be the ones to broach the topic, according to food and farming consultant Charles Skelton.
Mr Skelton, a consultant for land agents Savills which has helped devise the new ‘Ready and Resilient’ training course for the NFYFC, said: “We want to help the younger generation of farmers to start a succession conversation.
“Often the whole topic seems too complicated and difficult to sort out so people ignore it, which leads to problems. Understanding, unpacking and talking about succession is a great start.”
The new course is designed to run during Young Farmers’ Club meetings. It highlights the importance of communication, the process and skills needed to begin the conversation, as well as the positive effects of succession planning and the consequences of inadequate plans.
Mr Goodwin said: “It’s a new Young Farmers’ Club year and timely to consider some of the tough topics that will be so necessary during what’s become quite uncertain times.”
According to North York Moors farmer Richard Findlay, a period of unprecedented change for the farming industry is likely to make succession discussions even more challenging for families.
Mr Findlay, who is chairman of the national livestock board at the National Farmers' Union, has been working through succession arrangements with his parents and said the stresses facing farms as the industry adapts to a new domestic agricultural policy heightens the need for families to get the topic out in the open.
“We are determined to be open with our children about the future,” Mr Findlay said.
“The biggest challenge is one generation sees change and the younger generation sees opportunity, and it can challenge a relationship when youngsters come into a business partnership.
“When you have two or three generations involved, there will always be challenges around how the business addresses change, and over the next few years there are going to be bigger challenges than there has ever been in the past because we are going to see rapid change.”