BBC South East’s rural affairs correspondent Yvette Austin swapped TV cameras and reporting for the day to chair the panel of speakers. The discussion ranged from the challenges of taking over or embarking on a big role in the family farm, to how you start out on your own and protect the future of your business.
With equal numbers of men and women studying on agricultural courses now, there will be a noticeable increase in the number of women in the sector in the coming years. The audience heard how currently 14% of farms are run by women and 28% of the overall farming workforce is female. The panel discussed the issue of succession planning and how a farm is able to support one or more children while retaining Mum and Dad who might not be ready to move on to retirement.
There was unanimous support for any family member who wants to be involved in the family business to go and get experience elsewhere first, as many parents want their children to bring new skills, ideas and thinking to the business to help it to grow in future years. There was also detailed discussion on how you protect a successful farm business for the future, especially as children marry.
From the audience, a number of experienced women in farming shared their own thoughts about raising a family and taking an active role in the farm business. Also in the audience were a number of younger women keen to get into the industry and a few fathers, keen to encourage their daughters into the family business.
On the panel were: Lyndsey Martin of the National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs, who talked about her experiences of getting into farming and how she plans to achieve her ambitions in the future; Sarah Calcutt of Partners in Produce, who shared her background from a farming family and how a successful career in the industry might involve advising firms in it, rather than actively farming; Catherine Joules, county adviser at the NFU who gave an overall farming industry view and the areas of farming where women tend to be drawn to now and the opportunities for them in the sector; Claire Houchin, partner at BTF Partnership, talked about some of the latest employment issues and areas of changing legislation, which all farm employers should be aware of; and Gail Brooks at Gullands Solicitors looked at some of the legal considerations that should be in place to protect a farm business including pre-nups. Lastly, Christopher Eriksson-Lee at Brachers covered the issues of succession planning and broader farm business structure.
Final thoughts were given on the overall shortage of land in the South East and land prices and how that affects the opportunities for those new to farming becoming established and restricts the ability to expand farm operations. This was certainly a worthwhile discussion and food for thought for everyone who attended.