Succession planning: The unspoken challenge in New Zealand's farming families

Succession planning: The unspoken challenge in New Zealand's farming families

As the sun sets on New Zealand's vast agricultural landscapes, a conversation that carries far-reaching implications is being delicately broached around farmhouse kitchen tables. Succession planning, a topic often overlooked, yet incredibly crucial in ensuring the sustainable future of family farms is steadily gaining traction. 

John Redpath is an experienced coach in the corporate and agri sectors and has spent years helping farming families navigate their way through the sometimes treacherous waters of succession planning. 

He told REX host Dominic George that often just sitting down to talk about succession planning and having that chat can be the kickstart needed to actually create a solid, long-term plan.

"Taking control by starting succession conversations with all the families sooner rather than later creates choices," Redpath said. 

His approach to succession planning goes beyond the mere transfer of assets, focusing on meaningful dialogue and strategising to achieve the best possible outcome for all involved. While some might view succession planning as a complex web of legal, financial, and personal issues, Redpath sees it as a process of understanding and conversation. 

"The challenge people have is where to start," he explained.

 "We certainly can support some people around that, but just don't hold off." 

His approach emphasises the importance of starting these conversations early. The cost of neglecting this critical conversation, Redpath said, is not just monetary. 

The cost around family relationships is one that families should avoid, he warned. His advice is rooted in the practical experience of working with around 500 farming families across New Zealand. 

"Every now and again there are brick walls that are hit and it just needs someone in that family to lead it over," he noted. 

While each family's situation is unique, the lessons learned from these experiences are universal and serve as a guide for those facing similar challenges. The process is not always smooth sailing. Sometimes, it involves making hard decisions, like exiting the business. However, the primary objective, according to Redpath, is ensuring that the family continues to function as a unit, even when facing difficult choices. And it’s not just the older generation that reaches out for help. 

"Sometimes the contact will come from the children working out, how can we have that conversation with mum and dad?"  

While succession planning is just one of the many services offered by rural coaches, it's clear that the role they play is crucial in preserving the backbone of New Zealand's agricultural sector - the family farm. 

The impact of their work extends beyond the individual families they work with, contributing to the sustainability and resilience of rural communities as a whole. 

For more information on rural coaching or to start a conversation about succession planning, John Redpath and his team can be contacted through their website

"I enjoy what I do, and I think all of us in our business just want to make a difference to farming families and family farms," he told George.

It’s high time we turn the spotlight on succession planning, an area that can often be the difference between the survival and demise of a family farm. It’s not an easy conversation to have, but as Redpath emphasised, it’s one that must be had, and the sooner, the better. 

As the saying goes, failing to plan is planning to fail - and in this case, the stakes are too high to ignore.

Listen to the full chat between John Redpath and Dominic George above.

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