What does the Future Plan look like for your Farm Business?

Farming in Northern Ireland is a way of life, with key skills, learnings and family farms passed down from one generation to the next. But how many farm business’s actually have a farm family succession plan in place?

Rural Support’s recent Farming Pressures Survey, conducted in June 2020, indicated that almost a third of participants were worried about succession planning and the future. Having a will is one thing, but were the family involved when it was being drawn up? Does the next in line know what will the future holds for them and their family? What happens in the meantime as farmers live longer and healthier lives and perhaps want to do something different as they move into retirement?

The Dying Matters Awareness Week and Conference held in May conveyed the main messages of the importance of planning ahead, and of communicating clearly that plan to your family and loved ones.

Fiona Gilmour, Macmillan Service Improvement Lead for the Northern Trust, explained: “None of us want to think about getting ill or dying yet none of us want to make things difficult for our loved ones either. It’s important, for their sake, not to delay making significant arrangements like care, wills and funeral plans until it’s too late.  This year we want people to take action in planning for dying and death, to encourage family to discuss their wishes and support them to make their plans.”

The Covid 19 pandemic has highlighted the need for forward planning, with this also the key message of Heather Wildman, a colleague of Rural Support, from Saviour Associates, at the recent ‘In This Together – A Community Approach Talking About Death & Dying’ webinar; and one that Rural Support is fully committed to.

Veronica Morris, CEO of Rural Support said, “Transferring ownership of a farm business isn’t always straightforward but the sooner you begin to plan the better. Unexpected illness, a farm accident or sudden death can happen to anyone and so it’s important to consider your options and discuss these with your family today and develop a future plan for your business, yourself and your family and part of that, of course, is making a will. Farming families are traditionally very strong units and talking about these things is tough but necessary to avoid problems and bad feeling further down the line. Avoiding the inevitable and saying nothing, doesn’t make the elephant in the room go away. Rural Support can provide help to navigate the maze of future planning through its Farm Business Mentoring Programme. Our Staff and Mentor teams have experience in helping individuals deal with future and succession planning and providing support in making difficult decisions.”

Rural Supports Farm Business Mentoring is a free service that can be accessed via their confidential support line and is open to all members of the farming community. All the mentors have an agri-business or finance background and are situated across Northern Ireland so that they can support individuals both face to face and via the telephone.

Gillian Reid, Farm Business Support Coordinator said, “Establishing a future plan for farm succession will ensure the most effective and efficient transfer of responsibilities and assets to the next generation. This should involve everyone within the family who may be affected and respects the roles they may play now and in the future. A strong succession plan will help protect your farm business and your family. Therefore, it’s crucial that this is done sooner rather than later to avoid issues such as inheritance tax and family disputes.”

As the pandemic starts to ease thanks to the roll out of the vaccination programme, Rural Support is continuing to help farmers and farm families who are facing financial pressures, physical and mental health concerns as well as tackling isolation and loneliness. As well as the support line, Rural Support has a variety of free programmes available across Northern Ireland for the farming community including The Business of Farming, Coping with the Pressures of Farming, Across the Hedgerow, Plough On and The Prince’s Countryside Fund Farm Resilience Programme.

If you or someone you know would benefit from speaking to a Rural Support team member, please ring their support line which is confidential and is available 9am-9pm, Monday to Friday (voicemail and options available at all other times).  The freephone number is 0800 138 1678.