If family farms are transferred to the next generation, this usually takes place well before the owner’s death and often even before their retirement. Because family farms can provide the livelihoods of more than one generation, farm succession is a serious issue which requires careful planning and negotiation. Farm succession is also important for the New Zealand economy, because farm-based products are significant export earners.
Inherited farms typically pass to one successor (usually a son), but the process is complicated by the need to divide property fairly among all children. For this reason the successor purchases the farm – this also provides the retiring couple with an income. Sometimes part of the original farm is sold to meet these obligations. Children who leave the farm to pursue other careers often continue to see it as home.
Farm succession remains a largely male-orientated process in the 21st century – relatively few daughters inherit farms – though couples usually own a farm equally.
Farm succession is usually an ongoing process. It involves more than passing on land and stock – skills are also passed on and family traditions perpetuated. Typically, a young, married farmer, whose wife may also come from a farming background, enters the farm succession process. He is usually employed on the farm full-time, but may also be purchasing his own stock, farm equipment and small blocks of land. His wife may work on the farm or off-site.
The young couple increasingly takes on joint management responsibilities for the farm. The process ends when they acquire full ownership and most or all aspects of farm management. The retiring couple then moves to a smaller property or a nearby town, but are likely to retain a limited role on the farm and offer advice.