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Stackyard News Dec 06

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Farmers fail to plan for the future, report warns

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.

Sally Conner
Sally Conner

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 rural community.

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 young people.

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 Sally.

"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 of change.

"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

The Yorkshire 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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