Monday, May 20, 2019

Shut out of the family farm

May 31, 2018 by  
Filed under Clodhopper

More youngsters should be given a say in running the family business, says Clodhopper.

I suppose I was always to go into farming. Like many farmers’ sons, my earliest memories are of me sitting in the passenger seat or swinging from the open top back of the farm Land Rover.

But don’t not ask me which model or number this was: anything to do with cars or vans was of little interest to me then and is of little interest to me now. It must run in the family – on our farm many years ago, we even had a Lada Niva.

Remember the old Lada 4×4? They are still unstoppable, even today. So much so that a near neighbour has just purchased a new one from a German dealer. It only cost him around £10,000 – a bargain compared to many other vehicles.

Anyway, back to the farm. My reason for mentioning farmers’ sons is a chance conversation with an old college mate. He is the fifth generation of his family to farm – or not as the case turned out. And he asked me whether I thought someone could be too intelligent to farm?

It seemed a strange question at the time. And having mulled it over many times since, I am still not sure there is a correct answer. My old mate was always clever at college – and arrived with O-levels galore before making a success of his college course too.

Increasing frustration

He only ever talked farming but had an unstable relationship with his father. He worked on the farm during school and college holidays – unpaid or for very little, an all-too-common theme these days with family farms. And he enjoyed the work but became increasingly frustrated.

As he gathered more knowledge, his expertise in agricultural economics meant he began to question the viability of the farm business. But his father was the type to insist that the business was run his way or no way and harped back to the methods used by his father and all before him.

It was a mixed dairy and arable farm. And young junior could see the writing on the wall for the dairy side of the business unless drastic changes took place. But whatever he suggested fell on deaf ears until eventually he was told that his father was fed up hearing about new ideas.

So my mate with all nine O-levels and a college education decided his talents lay somewhere else. In his heart, he still wanted to farm but his older brother stayed at home and by all accounts came away from school with very little paperwork and seldom attended college.

Farm life

In effect, his brother’s farming education consisted of being home taught. With no outside influence, he was wedded to his father’s ideas, worked for very little and remained content to live off the farm believing he would one day inherit the business.

Meanwhile, my friend took a job in engineering. He was successful and eventually got as close as he could to farming by working for a regional agricultural firm. But he still yearned to farm in his own right and eventually returned home himself – despite knowing deep down it was a mistake.

By then the farm had expanded to 1,000 acres – largely thanks to my friend’s grandfather. But the overall business debt had increased over time too and eventually, with farmer and brother in charge, it reverted back to the original 500 acres.

After seven long years, my friend left the farm again – this time for good. With no differences resolved, he returned to engineering in the knowledge he had tried his best. Looking back, he believes it was the right solution for everyone involved – and for his own pocket.

Surviving conflict

Had he been thick as two short planks like his brother, he would have just gone straight into the farm from school. He may well have farmed as he wanted but without the correct pay. That said, he was never happy just to survive and wanted to expand – hence the conflict.

The sad outcome of this was his father passed away and the farm was sold. With increasing land values and a brother who preferred the easy life, he lost his last slim chance of farming. I asked him if he was bitter towards his father and brother? He said not really bitter, just sad.

I wonder how many farmers’ sons feel the same and how many fathers hold onto the reigns far too long – denying the younger generation their chance to farm in their own right and improve the family business? Too many, I wager. It needs to change.

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