Handing down the farm

Milly Fyfe (who is not from a farming background) is passionate about the promotion of British Agriculture and the diversity in career opportunities available. Milly is the former NFYFC Chairman, she is a road safety advocate, small food producer, farmer’s wife and lover of all things country. Here, she shares her views on women taking up senior leadership roles within Agriculture, succession planning and the stigma attached to handing the farm down to the first born:

"It’s that topic we all know we should talk about but how can you start the conversation about succession? There are so many questions that need to be asked about the future of a farm as well as many assumptions made. The answers may already be apparent but locked up in a person’s mind rather than on paper. Something that should be shared and communicated so everyone knows where they stand. From experience I know this is often the case. Does that make good business sense? My gut says no.

Everyone should have a plan. Something that gives a business some structure and outlines what the future may look like with aspirations weaved in. Yes, there is so much emotion tied into the thought and decision making process but it must be far easier to do this whilst everyone is around rather than second guessing after losing a loved one. And then the only people who will get anything out of the process is the solicitor. So many times I have witnessed people’s livelihood’s torn apart because of disagreements and settlements which can often leave to selling off the farm or getting into huge amounts of debt.

In an office based environment the process is a lot clearer cut. Normal practice would entail a yearly review with employees, setting performance reviews or goals. Questions would be asked along the lines of where would you like to be? What do you enjoy? What have you done well? What does the future look like? How can we help to get you there?

Personally I have just been through a similar process at home. Andrew and I have just moved up to the main farm house so that we can take more of a handle on the farm business. This move didn’t happen by chance although it was an assumption made that one day we would live on the farm.

Having recently attended the Worshipful Company of Farmers challenge in leadership course put me in good stead for holding some of those difficult conversations. For me, I am a planner and I want to know what the future looks like. I don’t like surprises unless they come gift wrapped! And so for me, I wanted to know when we were likely to move to the farm. I was changing jobs and would like to be settled before starting the next chapter. Whilst Andrew mainly looks after things outside, I knew that the main house needed a lot of work to bring it up to date and of course this all takes time and money.

There are still so many questions that I would like to ask but I know we are incredibly lucky that we have such a wonderful opportunity so early in our careers to shape our future on the farm. I know we will have those conversations and I would also like to get something written down in case anything was to happen to any of us. That way I think we will all know where we stand and have that security and peace of mind.

It is refreshing that more and more women are taking up senior leadership roles within Agriculture, especially those who farm and give up their spare time for advocacy work. I do believe there is still a stigma about the first born son taking on the farm business but I am glad that this mind set is being challenged.

I urge you all to try and have those conversations as I can assure you that you will feel a lot better afterwards"