Progression Planning
By Julian Kriegg
Making decisions about giving up farming and retirement can be most difficult for farmers. We often hear the word ‘succession’ but what does this mean? When we talk about this topic, there are a lot of mixed messages. Perhaps we need a better word—maybe ‘progression’. We need to focus on how we shift the farming business into the next era or generation, and ask how do we, as farmers, move into a different but fulfilling lifestyle without losing our identity?
I have a strong view that if farming is to survive as a family business in the future we need to deal with these issues. I see far too much stress and anger in many farming families because the issues are not adequately addressed before some crisis occurs.
There are a few facts that must be remembered:

  • Progression is inevitable one way or another—time takes care of that.
  • Progression planning should consider relationships ahead of business issues
  • All children need to be treated fairly.
  • Moving on from farming is not a death sentence.

A research project involving a large group of farmers in New South Wales a few years ago made some interesting findings. The women, across all ages, were focused on maintaining family relationships far more than anyone expected. The men seemed to miss the importance of this point.

The women said:

• Children have a right to choose their career.
• Children have a right to choose their life partners.
• Ideas about transition from one generation to the next need to be decided early or before any children come back to the farm.
• The older generation need a plan to step out of the business. Clear timelines and the separation of ‘lifestyle and the business’ were also seen as critical. The next generation will not be convinced about the lifestyle attributes if the business isn’t profitable.

I see too many families self-destruct because they fail to address the relationship issues involved in transferring the family business. The problems experienced over this issue are unique to rural businesses because of the lifestyle and business link but also because of a lack of opportunities to develop a good understanding of the changed needs of the next generation.
The current generation of farmers often fell into the role because it was ‘expected’ that the sons, in particular, would follow in their father’s footsteps. That era is gone—and in lots of ways that’s a good thing.
Don’t let unspoken expectations destroy your future or your relationships with your children. Rethinking how we manage this important phase in the family business is critical—and it can be done successfully if it is seen as progression and not succession.
There is life after farming and it can be the most rewarding era of your life if managed correctly.