Securing the future: making succession work (Organised by Soil Association)

When succession works well it brings fresh ideas, energy and innovation into a farming business. When it doesn’t another family farm is potentially lost. This session aimed to look at some examples of farms and farmers that have succeeded in bringing the next generation on board and how they did it. It also looked wider afield, explored some structural changes and looked at what the organic sector as a whole can learn about supporting generational renewal.

Rachel Harries (Soil Association): Chair

Session summary

If done successfully, succession can lead to the rewards for both the younger generation and the previous through giving others an opportunity to farm and by taking on a successful vibrant business. With presentations from both consultants and next generation farmers, the workshop gave insight into the process of succession from both sides of the table.

The first presentation was by Polly Davies, a next generation farmer who, having spent ten years working and living in London, decided to move back to the family farm. Polly spoke of her experience of returning home, the frustrations of being a tenant farmer, and the many hoops that must be jumped through for generational tenancies. Rather than making big changes, Polly’s approach is to progress slowly by taking responsibility for one aspect of the farm at a time while managing the rest of the farm with her father. Polly’s top three tips for prospective farmers were to be flexible and to make compromises, to attend training events, and if you do want to farm, do it now – there are worse bosses than your parents!

The next presentation was given by Tony Evans of The Andersons Centre and Gareth Taylor from Red Deer Farm who presented the case for alternative models of succession such as joint ventures. With Tony’s guidance, Gareth has made the journey from a trainee farmer to forming a partnership with the owner of Red Deer Farm, proving that succession doesn’t have to be through family. Tony and Gareth emphasised the importance of having a successful business worthy of succession, effective communication throughout the transition, and starting the succession process early.

Finally, Michael Mack of Smiths Gore focused on succession planning; you only get one chance at succession so it’s important to get it right. In Michael’s experience, short transitions do not lead to good decisions so it’s important not to rush the process, further stressing the importance of starting the planning process early. Michael also highlighted the need for an approach based on family objectives not just tax avoidance, an approach that uses the right structure and involves everyone – even the in-laws! During the discussions there was debate over how early should you start the succession process. A number of participants felt that deciding by the age of 18 whether you want to farm is too much to ask of the younger generation, and with increasing life expectancies what’s the rush? Polly also made the case for not over-planning succession and just getting out there and doing it. Another area of discussion was whether you should include everyone in the planning process, even children who aren’t interested in a farming future.

Key conclusions

The discussion that followed the presentations brought out the following points:

  • Start the succession process early. However is deciding by the age of 18 whether you want to farm is too much to ask of the younger generation? And with increasing life expectancies, there is more time for transition.
  • Make a plan. Although the case for not over-planning succession was put forward by Polly suggesting that it is best to just get on with it.
  • Involve everyone: Whether to include everyone his was thought to depend on individual circumstances. Should include everyone in the planning process, even children who aren’t interested in a farming future?

Individual speaker presentations and abstracts

Polly Davies (Slade Farm): Boom, bust & babies (no powerpoint presentation)

Polly returned to the family farm in 2012. The farm turned organic in 2000 and has a number of different enterprises, including beef, sheep, pigs, cereals, agri-environmental schemes and a small farm shop and butchery. Polly will talk about her experience in returning home to farm. What to do and what best to avoid!

The presentation will briefly survey the impacts of GM technology on farmers – primarily in the US – and will consider what the impacts might be should commercial GM cropping be introduced into the UK. In particular it will focus on gene flow, weed resistance, breeding techniques and the impact on seed availability.

Tony Evans (The Andersons Centre) and Gareth Taylor (Red Deer Farm) Bringing new people into a family business. (No powerpoint presentations)

Tony specialises in contract and share farming and has worked with Red Deer Farm, an organic herb farm in Worcestershire, which he will use as a case study.

Michael Mack (Smiths Gore): Business transfer between generations (No powerpoint presentation)

Michael will focus on the transfer of a business between generations, providing the tactics needed to implement a succession plan which embraces the family’s objectives while also improving the short and long term business performance. Michael will focus on avoiding common mistakes, creating a clear plan of action and the role of the different generations throughout the process.


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