Farm handovers need plenty of talk and patience

Farm succession planning requires communication and fairness

Agribusiness
CHANGING: Handing over the reigns to the next generation may not be as straightforward as first thought for some families. Photo: Shutterstock

CHANGING: Handing over the reigns to the next generation may not be as straightforward as first thought for some families. Photo: Shutterstock

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Planning on what happens to the farm takes time and talk.

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COMMUNICATION is key when it comes to coming up with a plan as to what will happen to the family farm.

Rabobank head of succession planning, Rosemary Bartle addressed the CaseIH Step Up conference in Bundaberg last week in a pre-recorded message on the subject of "creating the opportunity for the next generation".

She described succession planning as a lengthy and complex process, and one that is best initiated by the family leaders.

"It needs to be a top down process. The drive needs to come from the older generation," Ms Bartle said.

Four of the main considerations when it comes to handling the handover of a rural operation were finances, identity, legacy and security.

From sorting out on-farm housing situations to access rights for other family members should the ownership change, Ms Bartle said there were a myriad of things to consider, which all require time to work through.

"You need to be proactive and you need to start early," Ms Bartle said.

"This process is all about communication; it's all about talking, discussing what's going on."

"What options do we have to meet the needs, aspirations and expectations of the family? The earlier you start, the more time you have to work on them."

She said, although it would be difficult, the emotion needs to be taken out of the conversation, with no assumptions made as to what various family members might be thinking.

"You need to understand that financial reality," she said.

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She encouraged families to avoid starting with possible solutions and instead simply outline current arrangements and what each person's perspective might be, as well as what the overall family's goal is.

It was also important to get things written down, not necessarily for legal reasons but just for clarity and to create a record trail.

"Don't rely on memory. Memories are notoriously bad," she said.

Families should consider an independent facilitator who could pose awkward questions and raise issues that those within the family unit may not.

Ms Bartle said there were often instances where a child may not necessarily want to move back to the family farm but would still like to be involved somehow.

She said one solution was to think outside the traditional farming roles, and ask if there were any expansion options that could add value and accommodate more than one or two children within the business.

Having said that, she also warned families about the implications of off-farm children inheriting land.

It was more about aiming for what is fair rather than what is equal, which could look different for each family.

One "all-in" meeting with all immediate family members and in-laws may not be enough to finalise a succession plan.

Ms Bartle said several may be needed, and even at regular opportunities or when a significant event happens such as a marriage, death or divorce.

"It comes back to communication. If you do it and do it well, your plan has got a much, much greater chance at being successful," she said.

"I believe that the best of this is to get out the other side and still have family talking to each other.

"They may sound petty but it is the petty things that bring families undone."

"There are a lot of issues involved and those issues can get complex but don't get frightened off by that."

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The story Farm handovers need plenty of talk and patience first appeared on Good Fruit & Vegetables.

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