Seminar to examine farm succession planning

Published 23 July 2008

farm.jpgA visiting expert from the United States will draw on information collected in both the US and Australia when he examines farmers’ attitudes to retirement and succession planning in a public seminar at the University of New England tomorrow.

John Becker, Professor of Agricultural Economics and Law at Pennsylvania State University, will present the seminar, titled “Agriculture’s future: succession planning in Australia and the US”, at 4 pm on Thursday 24 July in UNE’s Lewis Seminar Room (Economics, Business and Law Building).

“There is a clear trend that the farm population is ageing,” Professor Becker said. “In the United States there are three times as many primary farm operators over the age of 65 as there are under the age of 35. This means that a significant number of these primary farm operators will be turning over ownership of their production enterprises in the near future.”

“In addition,” he said, “there are disconcerting projections about how it is increasingly difficult to find young people to continue with family traditions of farming. The sustainability of small family-owned and operated farms depends on farm succession planning.

“Farm succession planning refers to a comprehensive approach to plan for the transfer of a family business from one generation to the next. Studies have shown that low numbers of farm families have individually designed succession plans. Many families do not know how to develop a plan or where to start. Incomplete or inadequate farm succession planning often results in heirs who are incapable of running the farm business, family conflict, prolonged legal battles, and division of family-owned and operated farm business assets to satisfy heirs who want to ‘cash in’ their share of the business rather than invest in it.

“Relatively little is known about why families wait to make farm transfer arrangements. This is a substantial problem in farm succession, since the process is complex, potentially costly, time-consuming, and challenging. My presentation will draw on a variety of sources to discuss what is known about farmers’ attitudes towards retirement and succession planning, and the issues these data reflect.”

He said those sources would include data from a survey of American farmers that he had been involved with, and data from a survey of Australian farmers carried out by Dr Elaine Barclay from UNE’s Institute for Rural Futures. “There are many similarities between the situation in Australia and the United States,” he said.

Professor Becker is nearing the end of a six-month visit to UNE, where he has been working in UNE’s Australian Centre for Agriculture and Law with the Centre’s Director, Professor Paul Martin.