Putting an effective succession plan in place is one of the biggest challenges facing every farm family, according to John McCallister, the manager of Northern Ireland’s new Land Mobility Programme.
“It tends to be the elephant in the room, which rarely gets talked about within families. This is a fundamental error and is one of the reasons why the transition of a farming business from one generation to the next is not always as smooth as it should be,” he said.
John made these comments while on a recent visit to the Seaforde farm of Allan Chambers. The business has been managed as a share farming venture with Neill Patterson for the past six years.
“The farm is an exclusively arable operation with approximately 1,200t of grain produced on an annual basis,” Allan explained.
“Neill has a separate poultry meat operation with the litter produced by the birds used to fertilise the cereal ground.
“On the back of an extensive soil testing and liming programme, we are now pretty much self-sufficient from a potash and phosphate perspective. Nitrogen fertiliser is bought-in to meet crops’ optimal growth requirements.”
Allan is quick to confirm that the share farming arrangements, agreed with Neill, have worked well.
“Older farmers must recognise that they cannot continue to keep their land, livestock, buildings, and machinery in good working condition for ever. Planning to involve a new generation in the business is essential.”
Courtesy of his new role, John McCallister will be responsible for the promotion of land and enterprise mobility, through collective arrangements such as partnerships, shared farming arrangements and leases between younger farmers and older landowners.
Both the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) and the Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster (YFCU) are confident that the Land Mobility scheme will benefit both older and younger farming generations by matching people to opportunities.
The objective is to put older farmers facing the challenge of succession in touch with younger farmers wanting to get into the industry.
John will be responsible for creating a database of interested older and younger farmers that will help link to appropriate opportunities. The service will outline available options and will develop an agreement based on personal priorities and circumstances. He added:
“Share farming is only one of the options that can be considered, in the context of the Land Mobility Service.
“The scheme itself will be every flexible in nature. I also recognise that it will take time for a landowner to build up a good working relationship with an interested young farmer, who is keen to develop a career in production agriculture.
“The reality is that large acreages of land in Northern Ireland are not meeting their production potential. The conacre system is partly to blame for this, as it gives the person renting the ground no longer term security.
“Land leasing, based on agreements lasting up to five or ten years, is one way around this problem. And the land Mobility Service can make this happen.”
McCallister continued: “We also need to see changes to the tax system, which would encourage land owners to actively engage in leasing arrangements. This has already happened in the Republic of Ireland. And the impact this is having, in terms of facilitating young people’s entry into production agriculture, is tangible.”