START early and keep talking: that’s the advice an expected 130-odd farmers will receive later this month during the Young Agribusiness Professionals conference in Bendigo.
Planned for June 25, the day will feature an address by succession planning specialist Brian Hinneberg, who is based in Bendigo.
The YAPs get-together is a precursor to the Victorian Farmers Federation’s Livestock and VFF Conferences the following day.
Mr Hinneberg will focus on how young people can approach conversations with parents around farm succession planning.
“The family farm is still the essential model for the vast majority of farms in Australia. Ensuring the farm is viable and profitable, the kids will want to come home,” he said.
“The aim is to align the generations so they have a vision for the future, bringing the best attributes of business culture into the farming enterprise.
“Within a family business, there’s sometimes tension between ‘business thinking’ that’s critical and analytical and ‘family thinking’ driven by emotion, people and relationships.
“Tension isn’t a bad thing – it’s how to deal with it to draw out the key points so the business works and the family stays together.
“A concern for many young people is often how to engage Dad in the conversation – sometimes men’s identities can be defined by what they do.
“Saying you’re retired doesn’t have the same ring to it.
“Part of the issue is what does life hold for Dad beyond farming – is there an ongoing role as ‘chairman’, or perhaps being supportive mentor and advisor or just a worker and an interfering nuisance that holds back the business? It is very much about family relationships.
“However, if Dad won’t involve himself in a conversation, frustratingly there will be little progress.
“Succession is not about a date, when everything is handed over, but ensuring all the elements are in place with a shared vision and an agreed direction in a documented plan that people are nurtured through.
“Start the conversation early, when you finish high school, university, your trade training. Your intentions can change with time. Even then, life events cause change – births, deaths, marriages, divorce, age events or incapacity can necessitate change a need for reflection and, potentially, a review of the plan.
“The keys are open communication and active listening, too many families rely on telepathy as a form of communication.
“Rather than trying to have one big conversation, have lots of little ones along the way. Maybe spin the questions around so they invite input, rather than present a challenge.
“Sometimes, it’s the way things are said that counts.
“Involve Mum and the siblings in a wider conversation – and not at Christmas-time.
This article was originally written by Colin Taylor and published in The Weekly Times on 15 June 2015.