Succession planning is vital – but all too often is postponed or ignored, according to Sian Bushell.

Potentially fraught conversations on the subject can be relatively pain free, however, if simple guidelines are followed, says succession facilitator Sian, who’ll be speaking on the topic at the Farming Women’s Workshops at next month’s Dairy Event and Livestock Show.

“Succession is going to happen to a business, whether you plan it or not, so it’s wise to prepare,” she says. Such planning can avoid personal, business and tax problems.

“People find it incredibly difficult to approach the subject – but the sooner you talk about it, the easier it is because you’ll have more time to plan ahead. If you don’t talk, animosity can build up.”

Whether it’s planning for what happens after the older generation dies, or more short- and medium-term considerations, talking is crucial. “I’ve seen huge problems of families falling out – usually because of a lack of communication and understanding. Once you sit down and talk, the anger and frustration dissipates because people understand what is happening.

“Some farmers are still working without a will, for example. It’s important to make one and talk it through with the beneficiaries, so everyone knows what your reasons and intentions are.”

The summer and autumn months can be a good opportunity to broach such subjects, with young people coming back to family businesses from college and university. “Parents often assume that they know what their children want to do. Never assume.”

Issues such as what hours they’re going to work, their wages, where they’ll live and what training they will be given should be discussed. Involve other brothers and sisters into the conversation, too, she urges.

For all such topics, it’s advisable to have a family meeting. “It’s wise to pick a neutral venue, so no one feels vulnerable or threatened. Make sure you’re not interrupted, turn off your mobile phones, be honest and make sure everyone is listened to and understood.”

The integration of a daughter-in-law can be particularly difficult, she says, so issues surrounding this process should also be discussed early.

• The succession planning session, presented by Sian Bushell and chaired by Farmers Weekly editor Jane King, is one of a programme of Farming Women’s Workshops running during both days of the Dairy Event and Livestock Show on 16 and 17 September. More details at http://www.dairyevent.co.uk/

Farming Women’s Workshops

Ayrshire Cattle Society Pavilion, 16 and 17 September

  • 10.30-11.00 Farm training – what’s available and funding opportunities
  • 11.30-12.00 Diversification and the business implications
  • 12.30-13.00 How to develop an effective succession plan
  • 13.30-14.00 Latest developments on employment law
  • 14.30-15.00 Improving your negotiation skills
  • 15.30-16.00 Making headway with your paperwork – the maps and the data