Farm Ireland

Thursday 22 February 2018

Losing Carlow's key adviser on farm succession is major blow

John Shirley

Farming is about more than cows, crops and cross-compliance. There's also the human side. The worries, hopes, family -- even the isolation that comes with living on and farming the land.

Things can suddenly, and awfully, go wrong, as we saw last week with the tragedy in Bagenalstown. Problems can also evolve over time from a lack of planning or from sheer bad luck.

At our county IFA executive meeting last week, retiring county chairman John Brennan spoke of a person who had a real feel for farm issues.

That person was John Wallis, of the Carlow County Development Partnership.

A high proportion of farming issues concern finance. At the IFA meeting, a spokesman said that some farmers -- already in trouble with their banks -- were now being hit further with penal interest rates of 16pc a year.

IFA South Leinster vice-president Ger Bergin urged such farmers to contact the IFA for assistance before the banks go to the courts.

"If the banks get a court order, then it is too late for us to do anything," Mr Bergin warned.

In spite of the general lift in farming, Mr Wallis's on-the-ground discovery is one of increasing financial hardship, especially on smaller farms where off-farm income has disappeared.

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This is also leading to extreme frustration, more time to think and more time to argue with a spouse.

There is not enough work on the farm to fully occupy the person, nor the finance to expand or stock the farm as the farmer would wish to. High stock prices have exacerbated this problem.

"There may be social welfare payments for 12 months after the cessation of off-farm employment. Farmers can then apply for Farm Assist but may or may not be deemed eligible. In some cases, the single farm payment is deemed to be the net farm income by the Department of Social Welfare, but this may not be the factual case," Mr Wallis said.

He added that succession was a huge issue on farms and was often poorly handled.

"Farmers by nature are inherently private people and this must be respected," he said. "There is evidence to show that where there is clarity of succession, there is more pride in the business and farming is of a higher standard by both donor and receiver."

Mr Wallis urged farm families to hold round-the-table discussions on succession, where every member speaks.

"Ask, 'who wants to be the farmer?'" he said.

In some cases, the designated successor doesn't really want to farm.

Wills need to be clearly written. The single farm payment (SFP) is now a major asset. If the testator wishes the SFP to stay attached to the land, this must be stated in the will. Otherwise, it will be part of a residue which is often willed to another family member.

The issue of marriage breakdowns was also raised at the IFA meeting.

Judges are now taking pre-nuptial agreements into account in instances where farm marriages fail.

Mr Wallis has now moved on to working with the unemployed. Mr Brennan said that farming's loss in the county was the unemployed's gain.

Indo Farming