The continued survival of the Irish family farming system is dependent on the smooth transfer for a largely intact landholding to the next generation. This requires the co-operation of both successors and non-successors to the farm with the inheritance strategy.

The role of heirs has been researched in Ireland and internationally non-successors have received scant attention, until now.

NUI Galway researcher Anne Cassidy presented her study on Irish farm youths’ attachment to land and their role in the successor process at this month’s Agricultural Research Forum in Tullamore.

She examined the emotional attachments of a cohort of farming youth who attend university away from home and the crucial role their play in passing on the farm either as the probable successor or a non-successor.

“The results of this study show an attachment of considerable importance continues to exist between farm youth and the holding they grew up on,” she outlined in her presentation.

“This remains an intrinsic feature of their identities and worldview even as they more towards an adulthood revolving around a professional lifestyle or urban living.

“Their commitment to the farm as well as the continuing strength of impartible succession norms was demonstrated by the almost universal refusal to contemplate the sale of the farm out of the family in the future.”

The study also found the farm is of great symbolic and practical significance in terms of the emotional connections and entanglements it generates.

“This has implications for how the succession process should be viewed in the Irish context and the likely continuation of the pattern of low land sales into the future,” noted Cassidy.

“While research typically concentrates on successors this paper shows that non-successors play a significant role in the transfer process. Through choosing to support the use of traditional succession norms and not seeking an equal division of assets such as the farm they play an important if often overlooked role in the succession process.”

The study also shows that for likely successors who do not want to become full-time farmers the duty to the family and the land remains a powerful force with consequences for their own life plans.

“Those who will not be given the farm also play a crucial role. They help to protect the linkage between the family and the farm through, for example, their willingness to accede to an inequitable inheritance strategy,” Cassidy outlined.

Furthermore, they can position themselves as back-up, custodial landholders who while unlikely to actively farm the land would retain title to it in the family in the hope that the next generation will produce a more willing farmer, she said.

“The practical and moral support they offer to siblings who do succeed also helps to ensure a smooth transfer of the farm from incumbent farmer to heir and ensure current succession patterns remain intact,” the NUI Galway researcher concluded.