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TRUST and communication are the two common themes running through successful succession planning for farming enterprises, a panel agreed at Growing SA on Wednesday.

With common ingredients like retirement planning, off-farm children and rising land values making farm business succession no simple task, all panelists agreed that a good first step was to get everyone "at the table".

As well as the entire family group, that included accountants, financial planners, business advisors and bankers, said Mellor Olsson Lawyer's partner Callen Bubner.

"I know first hand those advisors don't always see eye-to-eye, but the critical part is they can give you the information and advice so that you can make an informed decision about how you want to proceed," he said.

"Communication is really important but it comes with an asterisk.

In the perfect world, we'd want the family group as a whole in the succession planning discussion and ideally we'd want everyone signed off on the plan.

"In reality that doesn't always happen and family dynamics dictate whether we can do that or not, but even then communication is still key especially for off-farm kids so there aren't any surprises."

Mr Bubner said succession planning was not an event, but a process, and farming families were much more aware of that than in the past.

He advised making sure funds were set aside for the retiring generation, off-farm kids were provided for and there was a clear plan and structure for the business moving forward.

He said family trusts were generally the most flexible option for farm succession planning, but they could still come unstuck.

A grazier at Sheringa on the Eyre Peninsula, Bill Nosworthy inherited his property from his father at age 60 and immediately set about putting in plans to transition the enterprise to the next generation.

Having been in the succession planning phase already, Mr Nosworthy said trust was a good starting point.

He advised making sure everyone was informed during the process, including on and off-farm children, accountants, bankers and lawyers.

Being "completely fair" to everyone involved and having a clear post-retirement direction was also important.

"It's very easy to erode trust if you don't talk to each other and the following generation doesn't have the information they need to move into a new life as managers of that property if you choose to pass it on," Mr Nosworthy said.

"If you haven't made your own plans for your life you're going to struggle to work out how to get into your next life without messing up the one you've already got that you hope to hand to your children."

Catapult Wealth director Tony Catt was of the view that families needed to have clear and understood expectations of each other during the process, and each others needs were understood.

"You'll hear common themes about what succeeds and what breaks down when it comes to succession planning, and communication and trust are the two things that come up no matter what industry you're in," he said.

"As soon as trust is broken it's a long way back so in succession planning nothing beats talking."

Part of a multi-generational farming enterprise near Kimba, Andrew Baldock received a Nuffield scholarship in 2015 and investigated ways to expand family farms to support multiple children coming home.

"It didn't take long to realise that if we didn't pull family farms apart every 25 years that maybe it wouldn't be such a big issue so a fair portion of my Nuffield studies became around succession and what successful businesses done had to support that growth across multiple generations," he said.

"It became apparent it was about good governance, bringing everyone to the table and putting a plan and vision together."

Mr Baldock said in an ideal world succession wouldn't become an event, but something that occurred with the natural growth and progression of a farming business, and transpired using a team effort.

This article was published in The Stock Journal on 2 September 2023.