Succession on a family farm is a difficult business; after all, you and your wife have spent a lifetime building it up.
The thought of handing over to the next generation is therefore quite daunting.
The first thing to remember is it’s better the next generation make their mistakes while you’re still around to sort it out, rather than the alternative. Probably you’re doubting their ability and they are possibly beginning to doubt yours.
When I was 20, I couldn’t believe how stupid my father was; but by the time I got to 30 he’d managed to learn a lot
When I left college many years ago, the principal called us together and told us that we probably thought we knew it all and that our fathers were idiots.
I thought he was absolutely correct. I’ve come to realise the truth of the saying.
When I was 20, I couldn’t believe how stupid my father was; but by the time I got to 30 he’d managed to learn a lot.
Succession planning takes a lot of time and preparation. We spent seven years, and thank goodness we did. I liken the process to walking towards the Cliffs of Moher. It’s a beautiful view as you approach until the day you get to the edge and have to jump off, it’s very daunting and you hope the parachute that you’ve put in place works.
The seven years we spent entailed one year’s thinking, three years talking and planning and a further three years in the execution, until the final day when I had to jump and allow cheque book freedom.
We have developed a saying here, “you don’t learn until something goes wrong”, which is very true, but at least I’m still here to correct mistakes, rather than the alternative.
It’s so easy to focus on what is going wrong, rather than what is going right.
Since we have involved the next generation, and under their guidance changes have been made, nearly all for the better
We changed our meal supplier after 25 years of loyalty on both sides, which has saved us a fortune.
Whether we should continue with the same vet practice, since ours is very expensive, I’m not sure, but we have stuck with them because they provide an excellent service which second to none.
We have changed accountants, not sure about that one, but there have been several other changes which have financially benefited us and benefited the business - changes which I would have been reluctant to make in the past.
Unfortunately, there is no column on the account sheet for loyalty, which cuts both ways.
One problem with succession is that since the invention of the internet there is a whole new world out there socially, giving young farmers the opportunity to marry out, ie marrying girls who have no knowledge of what farming involves.
As with every wedding day, there are enormous preparations and expectations, but the poor girl from the town wakes up next morning after the honeymoon to the reality of being a farmer’s wife, which can be very daunting.
I am reminded of the scene in Ryan’s Daughter when Sarah Miles wakes up the day after her wedding to find nothing has changed.
I have to say the converse can be very true since my other end of the table has been a great success and helped me move the farm on to a whole new level - though at the beginning it was more of a salvage job than development.
The older generation understandably find it difficult to relinquish power and decision-making and total financial control, but the sooner this problem is addressed the better.
Don’t kid yourself you’re going to live for ever, but the one problem is the next generation marrying, with the divorce rate hitting 42% nationally.
So therefore, the new girl could leave with a large chunk of the farm after a few years. This is a very difficult problem to overcome but you must give your children roots, then wings to fly with freedom and most often they are happiest at home even if they leave and come back.
I speak from experience.
It was interesting to read the report of Professor Tim Bennett at the NFU Conference. He made the point that innovation and productivity to produce more food to tackle food security could lead to more food waste as food remains cheap and people evaluate it less.