Farm succession a vital discussion
No farmer wants to age alone. But farmers risk doing just that unless they confront issues around farm succession, American Joel Salatin told farmers at a workshop on Sunday.
There were thousands of farmers growing old alone and it was something farmers did not talk about enough, he said.
‘‘ When you talk about how to work with your kids so they want to work with you, when you talk about that family harmony, those are tough issues, they are taboo.’’
Salatin, his son Daniel and daughter- in-law Sheri ran the day-long workshop that looked at farm succession, how to get children to love farming, staffing, marketing and leasing as a means of running a farm business.
It was Salatin’s third visit to New Zealand. He has been described by Time magazine as ‘‘ the world’s most innovative farmer’’, and runs Polyface Farms in Virginia along with his family.
The business processes, distributes and markets its produce direct to families, retail outlets and restaurants.
Family and farming went hand in hand because farming was such a lifestyle, Daniel Salatin said.
‘‘It’s not just a nine to five job. It’s a lifestyle you embrace at an early age and it becomes part of you.’’
That meant transferring the passion of farming to someone else. This was achieved at Polyface by running an internship and apprenticeship scheme.
He urged farmers to set up principles that were family- friendly. This encouraged the integration of children into every aspect of the business at an early age.
The average farm owner was in their 60s because of low income, high entry costs, attraction to cities and farm career prejudice, Joel Salatin said.
Farm owners had to envision how they wanted their farm to look when they were old and then look at ways of achieving that vision.
To achieve that, farmers had to realise there was not a farm on the planet that was fully developed. It was not about scale, but being creative and developing complementary enterprises and income streams and production.
Salatin is also a believer in developing portable farms and leasing farmland.
The capitalisation hurdles are so intimidating for young people that they cannot get into farming.
This was because the cost of land compared with its production capacity was ‘‘way out of kilter’’.
Polyface Farms was bought by his parents in 1961 for $90 an acre. Today it was worth $8000 an acre, but its production capacity hadn’t climbed as high.
To create succession, there needed to be an easy entering and exiting flow to and from farms.
This could be done by creating portable infrastructure and farming on leased land.
‘‘You can take a $300,000 income farm and put all of the infrastructure on a couple of flatbeds and move the entire farm. Suddenly you divorce the farm from the land.’’
Farming and land ownership were two different businesses and as soon as farmers got away from the idea that land needed to be bought in order to farm, opportunities opened up, he said.
There was a lot of wonderful land owned by 60- year- old farmers who had not embraced the idea that a small two- hectare parcel could be used by a young farming couple to develop their own enterprise.
This gave them a toe-in, he said.
Too many young farmers would save a nest egg for some farmland but would have nothing else for the farm’s infrastructure or livestock.
Salatin said the value of Polyface was not in the land. It was the customer base and the knowledge base.
It was a managementintensive system that required people and created a point of difference from cheap, large commodity producers.