Farm suc­ces­sion a vi­tal dis­cus­sion

Matamata Chronicle - - Rural Delivery -

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.

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