Farmers who actively avoid a conversation with the next generation on succession are doing their families a “disservice”, the Ulster Grassland Society (UGS) annual conference on Tuesday was told.

During her presentation, Cumbria native Heather Wildman, who runs her own business specialising in issues such as farm succession, said it was important to address the topic before a crisis, a family fall-out or a sudden death.

“People need to know what is going on. Folk are not mind-readers. You need to say what you are going to do,” she advised.

Wildman said it was “amazing” just how many farming couples don’t talk about succession, never mind discussing it with children, but when the subject is finally broached, there is often a sense of relief from other family members.

She said it was important to be transparent and talk about numbers, including how much money you will need each month to cover bills if the farm is handed over to the next generation.

“Have open conversations about where you want to live, the hours you want to work. Is the farm big enough? Be honest from the word go,” she said.

That honest conversation might potentially conclude the best action is to sell the farm, allowing children and their families to start a new legacy elsewhere, suggested Wildman.

While everyone should have a will that is regularly reviewed, she maintained a power of attorney (giving someone the legal authority to make decisions on your behalf) was equally important.

On more practical issues, she said all passwords and login details should be written down.

“If you don’t, it is a nightmare for anyone to sort out,” she said.

Dr Shane Conway University of Galway , Heather Wildman Saviour Associates, Peter Browne, Agriculture Law Association and Neale Manning, British Grassland Society were the guest speakers at the Ulster Grassland Society's AGM in Dunadry Co Antrim. \ Houston Green


Also speaking at the UGS event was Shropshire farmer Neale Manning, who milks 270 cows in a spring calving system along with his youngest son, Dan. He explained how he has gradually taken a backseat in day-to-day operations on the farm.

Last year he and his wife moved to the local town, allowing Dan and his partner to set up home in the main farmhouse.

“The older generation need a nice house to live in and cash to live on,” suggested Manning.

However, he also pointed out that the middle generation needs a business that is making money, so they can invest in things to live on when they are older.

“They also they need a lifestyle, and not to be working 70 to 80 hours per week to pay for you,” he said.

But there is then a third generation of young people, watching their parents and grandparents working the farm, who need to see that it isn’t just all hard toil.

“And when they have sportsday, etc, both parents should turn up, on time and don’t be in a rush to leave,” he added.

John Egerton, president Ulster Grassland Society, presenting the UGS grassland farmer of the year to David Hunter from Newtownstewart, Co Tyrone, at the Society's AGM in Dunadry, Co Antrim. \ Houston Green


His advice to those sorting out wills and who gets what, is to perhaps get a family friend to mediate, before seeking professional guidance.

“Success should be measured by whether your children are still happy to come home and hang out with you for a while – that is what matters,” concluded Manning.

Read more

Setting up the farm for the next generation

Plan early to protect inheritance, says adviser