It’s the conversation everyone wants to avoid this Christmas: “What happens to the family farm if dad and mum… you know… move on?” Admittedly, it’s not a good idea to chat about farm succession when you have a paper crown pasted to your sweaty forehead and a belly full of Christmas ham (and beer). Still, it’s a talk families need to have.
Carlyn Sherriff, a Senior Agribusiness Consultant and the People Management & Succession Team Leader at Pinion Advisory, says it’s important to talk about farm succession sooner rather than later. “Family members will return to, leave and join the business all the while seasons will come and go,” she says. “The family needs to have that roadmap to get through those times and reach their long-term objectives.” Here, Carlyn shares some tips for getting your family to talk about farm succession.
Think of it as a positive conversation
“Underpinning many farms is a really strong family relationship – we work hard together and we share our achievements together. It’s important to talk about succession so that, number one, the family relationship is preserved. And number two, so that business can transfer from one generation to another.
“What better reward for someone, after working their career in agriculture, to pass a successful business on to the next generation? It’s really something that people should aspire to do.”
Don't make assumptions
“Sadly, we’ve all heard stories of families that no longer have Christmas together because a conversation about succession never happened. Assumptions were made, and time slipped away.
“People should be wary of making assumptions and saying, ‘Oh, well, she’s moved to Adelaide. She doesn’t want to be involved in the farm,’ or, ‘He’s busy working with the bank now.’ Don’t make assumptions – have the conversation.”
Include the whole family
“There are families that choose to decide their succession plans in private and leave communication until the Will is readout. This is unfortunate because there’s an element of risk there. The children aren’t aware of what their parents’ wishes were, and the situation can deteriorate into family conflict.
“We’re very much about the inclusion of everybody, rather than doing it in a siloed way. It comes back to removing the assumptions and expectations that people have.”
Use real-life stories as a spur to action
“Sometimes you hear on the grapevine about a local incident, where something has gone pear-shaped. Use that as a springboard to a positive conversation. You might say, ‘Let’s not go down that pathway. Let’s get together. Do you realise that we haven’t had these conversations yet?’”
Make succession planning a part of the business
“For some, the word succession can have bad connotations but I think of it as another form of strategic planning. Replace the word succession with strategic and ask, ‘Where is the business going to be in five to 10 years? Where is our family going to be in five to 10 years?’
“If you’re sitting down looking at annual benchmarking data or production data, and how you performed in that single year, shift the focus at the end and say, ‘Okay, this is the game plan for 2021. What’s the game plan for 2025 or 2030?’ Think about it as a proactive business conversation.”
The conversation is just the beginning
“Succession planning is not an event, it’s a process. Be wary of expectations that the issue is going to be solved quickly. You’ve got to run a business while this process is unfolding and you’ve also got to live your life, so don’t think that you’re going to solve it in 12 months.”
You can help ensure a smoother farm succession with clear, accurate records that make it easy to pass on information about your operation. To find out how AgriWebb can provide powerful insights you can share with the next generation, book a free demo now.