Uncertain futures causing sleepless nights for Aussie farmers | OPINION

Uncertain futures causing sleepless nights for Aussie farmers | OPINION


Opinion
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It's worth talking about succession planning, says Susanne Bransgrove.

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OPINION

MANY Australian farming patriarchs and matriarchs are having countless sleepless nights worrying about the one problem which will most define the future for their family and farm.

Admittedly, some sleepless nights, particularly at present, are caused by things they have no control over such as weather patterns, current crops and their market price or water management.

While all those impact on the profitability and sustainability of the business, the significant years of experience, resourcefulness, resilience and incredible drive to innovate to constantly improve and reduce those risks generally, at least, provide some control and comfort.

There is one issue though that even resourcefulness and resilience seems unable to solve. 

An issue large enough to make or break the family and the farm, and that is the legacy of the family farm and business.

For the past 20 years, I’ve worked with a number of farmers across regional Australia to help to create sustainable futures for family businesses and have seen many farmers grapple with this very issue.

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And the one thing I find it all boils down to is communication within the family across all generations.

But just how do you communicate and grow with the next generation to keep the land and farm in the family, as it has been for generations?

Families dynamics are complex and managing the emotions and perspectives of the individuals as well as creating harmony and a unified approach to succession can seem insurmountable and a task more difficult than many problems farming might throw at you.

There are a number of very good one-day workshops on the topic but we often find these do not always adequately address the many years of family legacy and heritage.

AUTHOR: Susanne Bransgrove is a director of LiquidGold Consultants, which specialises in working with family businesses across Australia.

AUTHOR: Susanne Bransgrove is a director of LiquidGold Consultants, which specialises in working with family businesses across Australia.

Workshop facilitators don’t have the time to truly understand what matters to each individual today, how to create family unity and make decisions from that platform or how to continue with regular, effective communication to make good decisions for all and be able to work together in the future.

When it comes to succession and legacy, there is no quick fix and certainly no-one-size fits all Band-Aid or retro-fitting to make up for conversations that have not taken place for a 10 to 20-year period. 

The succession issue can be incredibly difficult for any patriarch and matriarch of a family business posing questions which can make for many sleepless nights.

What do the children really want? Do they actually want to manage the farm? Should one of them take over and which one?

How could they possibly manage the farm in harmony? Will the farm be able to sustain the family in the future? How can we all work together?

How could they possibly manage the farm in harmony? Will the farm be able to sustain the family in the future? How can we all work together?

The answer to each of these questions is already within your family and experience shows that well managed, continued conversations can help show a clear succession path that everybody can be part of and agree with.

Admittedly, it is difficult to break existing patterns and to put a new and positive perspective on topics that have previously caused conflict or ended up with conversations stalling or family members disengaging.

However, it is important to remember that giving up or avoiding conversations will not bring more peaceful nights and will likely end up with your family business being part of the 71 per cent of businesses that fail to transition.

Structures, legal documents and estate planning alone will not make your transition a smooth one either.

Give yourself a chance at getting some sleep and deal with the issues which you can control. Succession achieved through open communication is one of them.

Involving your next generation in the journey ahead, building good communication and trust, understanding your family’s values and setting family rules will provide you with a better chance at creating a sustainable future and sleeping better at night.

It is never too late to start communicating and creating good frameworks today to support your family and farm into the future and perhaps you should consider a fresh start.

Give yourself a chance at getting some sleep and deal with the issues which you can control. Succession achieved through open communication is one of them.

  • Susanne Bransgrove is a director of LiquidGold Consultants, which specialises in working with family businesses across Australia. Growing up as part of a third generation family business, Susanne combines her personal knowledge of the sector along with her 20 plus year working history as a leading advisor and professional with the likes of Macquarie Bank, ANZ and Commerzbank Bremen to provide expert opinion on a range of issues in running a family business and meeting the needs of multiple generations. 
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