Business

Half of Northern Ireland farmers haven't appointed successor, survey finds

Farming families are slow to appoint successors, a survey has found

SUCCESSION planning is of central importance to farming families in Northern Ireland, - but almost half have not appointed a successor - according to a survey.

Of farm businesses asked, 48 per cent said there was no plan on who would take over the farm, while one-in-five said that had "no reason" for appointing a successor.

Meanwhile, of those that had identified a successor, 61 per cent had not sought advice or information.

But over half (53 per cent) said they would be interested in a succession/inheritance planning advisory service.

The land mobility survey carried out by the Young Farmers Clubs’ of Ulster (YFCU) and the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU).

UFU president Barclay Bell said families often find it difficult to talk about succession and that there is reluctance from both young and old to raise it.

“The lack of succession planning is however a risk to farm businesses and the industry as a whole,” he said.

“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," he added.

Mr Bell said there was a need for more education and awareness around the issue.

"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," he said.

"This possibly reflects a lack of understanding and confidence."

The proportion of farmers in the north over 55-years-old increased from 52 per cent in 1993 to 59 per cent in 2013.

Over the same period, the percentage under 44 fell from 26 to 17 per cent.

YFCU president Roberta Simmons described it as "a startling trend".

"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.

Of the farmers surveyed, one in five who had identified a successor have planned for the transfer of the farm via a will.

But 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,” she added.

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