Farmers in Yorkshire and the Humber are leaving it too late to
plan the succession of their land and businesses, according to
new research. Just one farmer interviewed for a report said he
had succession plans in place in the event of his retirement or
death and the older generation are worried that the younger farmers
are turning their back on the industry.
The report, "Succession Planning within Farming Families",
was compiled by Sally Conner, North Yorkshire Rural Stress Co-ordinator
for the Yorkshire Rural Support Network whose remit is to help
combat stress within the countryside. The Network represents both
the statutory and voluntary sectors and is chaired by the Yorkshire
Agricultural Society as part of its work supporting the region's
Nigel Pulling Chief Executive of the Yorkshire Agricultural Society
said: "This report provides valuable evidence of a real issue
within the agricultural community. Farming is the life blood of
the countryside, and we must look to the future and the next generation.
Hopefully this report will spark discussion and then action to
help address this important issue. "
Commissioned by Framework for Change, the regional organisation
which leads the delivery on the Government's Strategy for Sustainable
Farming and Food, The report is now being considered by the organisation.
Steve Willis, who farms at Harrogate and is Chair of the Business
group of Framework for Change said: ""The report showed
that we have an ageing farming population with little long-term
business strategy and, more worryingly, no succession planning.
Most farmers over the age of retirement continue to work out of
choice rather than need, but there are enormous issues regarding
succession planning - or lack of it - which families are reluctant
to address for many reasons."
A cross-section of 38 farmers of all ages from across the region
were surveyed, seeking their views on farming and their plans for
the future of their businesses. The report recommends establishing
a family mediation service to address succession issues and a mentoring
service for young people.
The report also found younger generations needed to be encouraged
to stay in agriculture rather than leaving to pursue alternative
careers. One of the most important conclusions of the report was
the need to positively promote farming as a viable career among
Commenting on the findings Sally Conner said "There is particular
concern by the older generation of farming and non farming families
about the reluctance of young people to enter the agricultural
sector," she said. "It is felt that the industry as a
whole must be portrayed in a much more positive, flexible way."
The report wasn't all bad news as the majority of interviewees
felt the positive aspects of a family-run farm outweighed the negative.
Despite arguments between family members and the older generation
who may struggle to accept change, there was also a view that farming
together was a more efficient way to do business and offered a
chance for younger generations to continue in the industry.
To overcome problems, said Sally, a family mediation service was
needed to address succession issues, and farmers must understand
the emotional and financial impact the lack of arrangements could
have on their families.
"Succession planning should be addressed at a much earlier
stage within farming families, not when the older generation is
at the end of their career, often with health or financial worries," said
"There is also the need for better assessment of whether the
farming community is aware of the full range of advice and support
already available, and a need for a mentoring service to help young
people, new entrants, or farmers who are going through a period
"Although the farming community is accepting that to either
change or develop existing business is how they will survive, many
are unsure and unconfident about how the process should be started."
CASE STUDY 1 - David a Former Pig Farmer
David, a former pig farmer who worked in partnership with his father,
feels he lost out twice due to a lack of succession planning. His
father's will was written when he and his sister were children,
leaving the family farm to his mother, himself and his sister.
Once David became involved in the farm, his father agreed that
the will should be changed so that in the event of his death, David
could continue farming. Unfortunately his father died before any
changes could be put in place. This left David having to buy his
sister and mother out of the farm, and as a result, he felt that
farming the family farm was no longer financially viable and decided
to leave the industry.
Sally explained: "Because of the lack of succession planning,
David was left in a very difficult position having to find funds
to buy his farm from the family." David has now left the industry,
but the question has to be asked - if he had not had family financial
pressures, would he still be farming?"
In December 2002 Defra published the Government's
Strategy for Sustainable Farming & Food. The strategy was produced
in response to the Policy Commission's report on the future of
farming and food, published in January 2002. The strategy charged
the regions with developing the national framework into regional
delivery plans that deliver real change at a local level. Framework
for Change is the regional delivery partnership in Yorkshire and
the Humber. It is made up of individuals from the public, private
and voluntary sectors and delivers key initiatives identified by
its regional members, including the NFU and CLA
Rural Support Network was formed
in 1994 to help combat rural distress. Its aims are to reduce the
stigma associated with stress, to reduce the level of distress
and the number of suicides in the agricultural industry, and to
encourage a positive attitude to change. It is supported by a wide
number of statutory and non statutory organizations including the
Yorkshire Agricultural Society, Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution,
Farm Crisis Network and the Churches' Rural Commission.
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