Business Clinic: How can I make returning to the farm work?

Whether you have a legal, tax, insurance, management or land issue, Farmers Weekly’s Business Clinic experts can help.

Here, Michael Mack of Savills advises on issues likely to arise when a son or daughter joins the family farming business.

Q. I have come back from studying and working in Australia and am ready to get stuck in on the family farm. However, I’m worried about how it will work and how we might generate sufficient income.

A. Trying to forge a place for yourself will be a real challenge, but remember it will also be hard for your parents and everyone else involved in the farm.

The prospect of a young upstart joining the business, who could upset the status quo and start making rash decisions, is unsettling for those on the receiving end.

See also: Business Clinic – share-farming vs contract-farming 

Michael MackMichael Mack
Food and farming consultant, Savills

Regular meetings

One of the first steps that needs to be implemented is to set up a regular business meeting.

The meeting should be held at least monthly and include all the key people on the farm.

This will enable you to gain a strong understanding of the business and identify areas where you feel you can add value.

A common issue is that a son or daughter joining the business may have a completely different work ethic, lifestyle and even dress code compared with the older generation.

As the new entrant to the farm, you need to think about how others view your behaviour and actions.

Implementing new ideas

The biggest benefits you will bring to the farm are energy and ideas. You don’t want to lose these.

Before rushing into changing farming systems, diversifying the business or adding enterprises, it is important to bring the rest of the team along with you.

Spend time researching your ideas and really getting to grips with the topic before jumping in head first. Above all, communicate with your family and the other people involved. Nobody likes to be kept in the dark.

New enterprise

In a family farming situation, one solution may be to create a new enterprise as part of the business or set up a standalone business that is linked to the farm. Standalones provide independence, but you may face difficulties in securing grants and bank lending.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer in relation to structuring an enterprise to enable business development while also limiting the risk and tax burden.

It’s best to work as a team to cover all options and to agree business objectives, roles and responsibilities.

The type of activity you can develop to increase income could range from adding a new enterprise, such as establishing a B&B pig unit, to opening a tourism business or farm shop.

Pros and cons

Before committing, think about the pros and cons of each idea and how it will fit with both your interests and the farm.

One young farmer would come and talk to me on a monthly basis and each time his idea had changed, but one topic kept coming back.

After a lot of research he realised this was the one for him. Five or so years later and his business has grown and become a huge success.

Carving your niche on the farm will be greatly rewarding, but remember to watch how your ideas and actions are being received.

n establishing a new income stream, focus on you and the farm’s assets and remember it has to work for the rest of the farm and your family’s objectives.

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