Farming Family Partnerships… or Farming Family Feuds

Friday, 13 July 2018

With our rural team having their roots firmly in farming, we are lucky that this gives us first-hand experience of the highs and lows of making a rural business succeed. One of our senior managers, chartered surveyor Jennifer Whitton, explores how getting the right advice and the support to put it into action, can be the difference between thriving or disbanding.

Jennifer Whitton

Something that we come across all too often in our profession is a situation where cousins, siblings or generations of farming families, have their daggers drawn when it comes to collectively managing a farming or rural partnership. Potentially avoidable conflicts are often just around the corner or simmering under the surface.

Why does this happen, families are supportive units who all have each other’s backs, right?

We tend to find that where there are problems and issues it’s due to a lack of understanding and communication. This then leads to presumptions being made and often suppressed feelings of resentment and years of assuming someone/you are losing out pursues.

How do I know this?

Because it has happened to my family, I’ve seen it first-hand. Even though ours is slightly different now as we are no longer farming due to external factors; though if our generation had been more involved and better informed maybe things would be different?

Getting business support

As rural professionals, I cannot stress how important it is to involve all members of the family and all generations in discussions about; ownership, partnership splits and details, and the partnership mission statement. Being open an honest can prevent so many disputes and fallouts. It is useful to have these discussions with professional advisors as intermediaries. Professionals who have experience in working with and advising farming businesses, and this includes agents, solicitors and accountants to ensure all elements are covered and dealt with appropriately and fairly.

If disputes do arise your advisors are best placed to mediate and settle disagreements and provide clarity where misunderstandings may have arisen. They/we can provide advice as to how best move forward in the fairest way possible.

Back to my story…

We lost out because our grandparents generation did not trust the advice given to them, and whilst they thought they were doing the best for the family they were in-fact leaving future generations exposed. This misunderstanding was fed through to my generation but with the added complexity of ‘Chinese whispers’ as small but crucial elements weren’t explained properly. It all came to a head in a very fiery conversation one evening at a family gathering.

Unfortunately, it was too late, about 15 years too late. But for all those years me and my siblings had a totally different understanding of what had gone on because no one ever spoke about it.

Today, we are all still connected to the farming world. But everything could have been so very different if previous generations had received the right advice and support to action it.

How we can help…

At Howkins & Harrison my job includes providing this type of advice and support to other farming families and partnerships. It’s a role I take very seriously. Every case is very different, the complexities of the relationships and individual’s goals and motives are often very different too. But, working things through with all the parties involved, listening to their opinions and ideas, and being able to shape a future that works for all of them, is paramount, and what I love being able to do.

A partnership agreement can clarify ownership shares, agree who is responsible for what on a daily basis, and decide how decisions made and who are the decision makers. It can also dictate what happens when a partner dies or wants to retire, and how the profits (and losses) can be split.

It may sound like all obvious stuff that could be sorted out within a partnership/family – but if you have to deal with a traumatic event (such as a death) or a dispute, you want to make sure everything has been detailed and agreed up front, so your farming business can continue and have a clear path to do so. Having a proper, legal agreement agreed by all parties and drawn up with professionals ensures this happens and lets everyone know where they stand and what their roles are.

Please get in touch if you would like to talk through your own situation. We’re here and we can help.

Partnership services we offer:

Rugby: 01788 564666
Atherstone: 01827 718021
Ashby de la Zouch: 01530 877977

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