FARMING in the shadow of Slemish, near Broughshane, Thomas Moorhead runs beef and sheep enterprises comprising 130 suckler cows and 200 ewes.
Assisted on their progressive family farm by his father and son David, who came home after studying at CAFRE Greenmount Tom has three other sons and his wife Frances works off farm part-time.
A Focus Farmer, Tom is always trying to improve the farm business so applied for the Farm Business Mentoring Programme earlier this year.
His mentor, Gillian Reid, has a background in business banking and as a milk producer’s wife is well aware of challenges facing NI farmers, including succession planning.
So what did mentoring do for Tom Moorhead? “Mentoring let me look at my farm business with the help of a fresh pair of eyes.
“We become so familiar with our own enterprises and are so busy we sometimes don’t see the full picture. With our mentor Gillian we were able to openly discuss all options knowing that conversations were confidential.
“Meetings were around the kitchen table at times when we weren’t needed on the farm so it was all very relaxed and informal.”
Would mentoring be useful for all Northern Ireland farmers? “Most definitely,” says Tom. “No matter how good a farmer you are you must always be looking at ways to make your farm more efficient. Stand still in any business and you go backwards!
“On many farms there is no proper succession plan in place – yet this is vital for all farmers from the small part-timer to those with several hundred acres. It is essential to have a clear succession plan in place, which is updated on a regular basis.
“It is difficult to plan when, for example, children are small but, as Gillian pointed out there needs to be something in place at all times. None of us knows what the future holds be it a day or a decade ahead!
“I am involved with farm safety awareness training and this brings home how easily farm accidents happen. Every farmer must ask themselves if something happens to me tomorrow have I left a mess for my family to sort out? Or is there a plan, including a will, in place that is fair to those left behind and deals with Inheritance Tax implications?
“We found that this mentoring programme provides an opportunity to discuss your plans with an unbiased professional person before having formal discussions with a solicitor or accountant,” Tom added.
From a mentor’s perspective Gillian Reid points out that every farm family has different needs.
“No two farms have the same business enterprises, financial commitments or family set-up. For years tradition dictated that the eldest son took over the farm, but not so nowadays. The children of many progressive farmers follow other career paths thus leaving no natural successor on the land.
“Then you have the farm with several young people keen to be involved and numerous other situations in between. More young people want to farm and are being encouraged by CAP Reform proposals to help those under 40.
“Thus farm businesses need to be structured to allow this influx of youth to happen effectively and succession planning is a key part of this process,” Gillian asserted
Following mentoring an action plan is prepared and £250 made available for legal or financial advice in relation to succession planning.
So put your mind at rest and phone for a mentor today! Tel; 0845 026 7539, email firstname.lastname@example.org or browse www.countrysiderural.co.uk/farm-buiness-mentoring.