Mike Brady: Lost the zest for the land? Should you quit or should you stick?
Farmers who have lost their zest for the land need to consider why they are persisting in the business
Farmers are just like all self-employed business people; they find it hard to say no to work.
We all know the clichés. 'Farming is a way of life, not a business'; 'family farms are different to other businesses' and 'I'll keep farming until it's all gone'. To me, none of these sayings are true. Yes, most farmers love their land, livestock, crops and farm business, but it's not a badge of honour to keep on farming when you are well past your sell-by date.
Farmers who have a young successor keen to continue on the family business are the lucky ones. In such cases, the transition from one generation to the next usually falls into place in the natural lifecycle of the family.
However, those with no successors, or no interested successors, have a much more difficult decision to make in regards to calling it a day. The reality is, most are not brave enough to call it.
Employed people have a retirement date set in stone and they plan life after retirement accordingly.
Sports people generally have a retirement date imposed on them - the day you lose your place on the team to a younger up-and-coming protégé signals time to hang up the boots.
However, the self-employed farmer with no successor has no such line in the sand for retirement. Many just continue on, year after year after year.
The surprising revelation here is that the best time for a such a farmer to stop farming is not age-related.
I have met farmers in their 60s, 70s and 80s who are fit in mind and body and enjoy farming even more than when they commenced many decades earlier.
This is perfectly acceptable and to be encouraged for those who are fit and able, even though their expanding neighbours wish otherwise!
However, it is those farming on against their will regardless of age who need to wake up and smell the coffee.
Very often these are the farmers who do most of the moaning and groaning, which is then unfairly attributed to all farmers.
They are the ones who flout the laws in respect of pollution and animal welfare and place the image of the entire industry at risk.
They are also the slow payers testing the patience of contractors and other agribusinesses struggling to stay under the overdraft limit, pay their workers and feed their families.
Finally, the most deflating attribute of such farmers is their feckless attitude and disregard for everybody else in the industry.
If you are a farmer with some or all of these characteristics, please STOP farming, take responsibility for your actions, lease out your land and find a hobby or an occupation which you enjoy. You will do yourself, your family, your neighbours, fellow farmers and the industry a big favour.
In fact, as an industry we need to identify these farmers, then we need to reach out and try to help them, but if that help is refused, they need to be removed from the system.
The Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine (DAFM) does excellent work with farmers who 'fall off the wagon' for various reasons. Such situations are flagged by late or poor animal registration and movement, which then gives DAFM the reason to investigate and intervene, if necessary.
However, it is the farmers who are one step above this level who are the big risk to the industry.
There is an onus on family members, neighbours, fellow farmers and the DAFM to identify these farmers before it is too late and an incident exposes the industry to the ravages of social media.
We all know and understand why farmers and the farm organisations are anti farm inspections, but the only people who really fear farm inspections are those who are not compliant with the rules and regulations.
Yes, some DAFM inspectors could be better equipped or trained in dealing with errant or non-cooperative farmers, but the fear of a fine or penalty for non-compliance is a vital tool to protect the industry from incidents by rogue farmers.
Take a look at your farm and your performance as a farmer and ask the question: 'Is it time to stick out or is time to call it quits?'
Mike Brady is managing director at Brady Group agricultural consultants & land agents; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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