Almost 50% of farmers in the North do not have a succession plan in place – UFU

Some 48% of farmers in the North do not have a succession plan in place with one in five farmers saying they had ‘no reason/no good reason’ for doing so, a survey has found.

The survey of farmers in Northern Ireland was conducted by the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) and the Young Farmers Clubs’ of Ulster (YFCU).

Approximately a third of farmers without a successor stated that it was ‘neither unimportant nor important’ or ‘not important’ whether the farm stayed in family ownership (30%), it stayed farmed by the family (34%), or that it stayed in their family name (38%).

Farmers with adult children or no children are more open to such arrangements, it found.

Of the sample group of farmers surveyed with succession unplanned, 61% had not sought any advice or information on the matter.

The results of the survey were of no surprise to UFU President Barclay Bell, who said families often find it difficult to talk about succession and that there is reluctance from both young and old to raise the issue.

This does not come as a huge surprise but it does confirm that we are on the right track with our efforts to raise awareness about succession planning and a land mobility scheme that would link young farmers with older farmers seeking to retire.

While 61% had not sought advice or information on the issue, over half, 53%, said they would be interested in a succession/inheritance planning advisory service.

Bell added that there are big challenges for farming families around succession planning and the UFU and YFCU want to ensure good information is accessible.

“More education and awareness around options for land mobility and land consolidation are needed.

“The evidence suggests that farmers often rely on familiar short-term mechanisms, such as conacre, and largely overlook better options, such as partnership and long-term lease arrangements. This possibly reflects a lack of understanding and confidence,” Bell said.

The survey also found that the  proportion of farmers in Northern Ireland over 55-years-old increased from 52% in 1993 to 59% in 2013. While over the same period, the percentage under the age of 44 fell from 26% to 17%.

YFCU president, Roberta Simmons, said this was a startling trend and that there is little doubt difficultly accessing land had played a role.

“Access to land or land mobility has long been an issue for young farmers. The aim of the research was to get a better understanding of the thinking of those who had not yet identified a successor. That is the key to tackling the problem,” she said.

The survey found that that one in five farmers who had identified a successor have planned for the transfer of the farm via a will.

The YFCU President said delaying the transfer until death could discourage young farmers from investing fully in the farm.

“This situation is of little benefit to a farm business or the wider industry. Our agricultural colleges are full to capacity, so it is clear many young people want a career in farming – but land mobility remains a barrier.

“This needs to be addressed with urgency. If not, the consequences will be far reaching for the entire agri-food industry,” Simmons said.

The UFU and YFCU are continuing to work to establish a land mobility scheme to link young farmers with older farmers keen to retire, but who have no succession plan. The detail and possible funding arrangements are now being finalised.