In the coming years, farm succession will become a topical issue for many Swiss farming families. However, the process is demanding. A research and development project at BFH-HAFL highlights challenges and presents tools.
In the farm succession process, the course is set for the future of both the farm and the cooperation and cohabitation of the retiring and succeeding generations. This process is demanding and ideally runs over a longer period of time. Whether the farm succession solution is sustainable in the long term depends crucially on how the process is planned and implemented. In the coming years, farm succession will become a topical issue for many Swiss farming families, as a large proportion of farm managers will reach retirement age.
The sooner the better
The ‘Hofübergabe360’ participatory research and development project focused on the farm succession process in Switzerland and in particular on the interpersonal aspects within it. Interviews and focus group discussions with farming families, extensionists and agricultural educators showed how complex the challenges are that this process poses to those involved. On the one hand, the participants of the retiring and the succeeding generations have to become aware of their own needs, values, abilities and plans for the future. On the other hand, they have to find solutions together that are not only possible under the operational, financial and legal conditions but also acceptable to both generations. This in turn requires that the farm succession process be tackled at an early stage.
The extensionists are required to have not only agricultural and legal expertise but also social and psychological skills in order to be able to support the farming families with emotional and interpersonal issues. This ensures that these issues are dealt with at the family and extension table and do not become “elephants in the room”. As the empirical results clearly show, the process should be started at an early stage and approached thoughtfully and holistically. On the one hand, this means that the affected family members must be involved in good time, including partners or siblings. On the other hand, sufficient space must be given to personal, emotional and interpersonal issues, even if financial and legal aspects seem more urgent. Both farming families and extensionists need to be more aware of the negative consequences that neglecting such issues can have long after the farm succession.
Empirically based tools have been developed to support early and holistic farm succession planning. On a new website, the farm succession process, consisting of seven phases, is described and visualised in order to make it easier for farming families and extension services to gain an overview and start the process. The game “Parcours” uses a variety of situations to raise awareness of difficulties that can arise during or after farm succession. A change of perspective is playfully encouraged in order to promote mutual understanding and the joint search for solutions.
- The process should start early because the seven phases, the joint search for solutions and unforeseen events take time.
- Farm managers should reflect on their own goals, wishes and values early on, five to ten years before the farm is transferred.
- The new website www.hofnachfolge-parcours.ch explains the seven phases of the farm succession process, offers guidance on goals, central themes and challenges and provides further information.
- Emotional and interpersonal aspects as well as participants’ own values, wishes and ideas must be laid out on the family and extension table. This can prevent problems later on.
- The game “Parcours” addresses interpersonal aspects of the farm succession process, living and working together. It enables a change of perspective and sensitises players to the importance of a holistic approach.