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In the daily grind of managing production operations, staff, finances and family, dealing with legal issues can easily get put on the back burner by farmers. But there is much value in working with an experienced law firm that specialises in agricultural issues before major problems occur. This can save time, money and heartache in the long term and protect the investments that have gone into the farm business over many years – and often across multiple generations.

Lawyers can provide unique services to farmers when making big business decisions, such as buying or transferring land or changing company structures. Their involvement can also be invaluable when undertaking strategic and succession planning and analysing a range of future business scenarios – often working in conjunction with the farmer’s other professional advisers and financiers.

Engaging with a lawyer can assure farmers they are making legally-sound choices, and protect against unnecessary hardship or problems that may arise in future. Mellor Olsson Lawyers Senior Associate, Callen Bubner, who is based at the firm’s Clare office, said staving off future legal issues could add significant value to a farming business. He said Mellor Olsson has one of the biggest legal footprints across regional SA and found that farmers were often proactive in approaching them when renewing, restructuring or establishing contracts; undertaking business structuring and tax planning; setting up systems for asset protection; drawing up Wills, Estate Planning and Succession.

“It is more cost-efficient and effective if lawyers are involved from the outset of any contract development or due diligence process, such as when purchasing, leasing or selling land”, he said. “When it comes to these types of transactions, we can ensure the rights of the seller, buyer, lessee and lessor are all sufficiently protected and the risk of default is covered. “Clear contractual agreements are also becoming increasingly important when negotiating and implementing water; horticultural and viticultural licences and mining exploration approaches. “Getting the structure, terms, warranties and conditions right in all contracts will protect a farmers’ interests and investments.”

Mr Bubner said using a lawyer for business, tax and succession planning was common and a sensible approach to protecting assets. He said farmers had to deal with increasingly complex financial systems and products, such as in self managed superannuation, insurance and succession planning tools, and legal advice could help them find the best options.

“We provide an objective analysis of the farming business and can help find the most appropriate products in conjunction with other professional service providers – to help reduce costs, protect assets and mitigate risks’, he said.

When it comes to succession planning, Mr Bubner said engaging a third party professional such as a lawyer, could reduce family stress and pave the way for a smoother transition of assets between generations.

“We can help implement an achievable plan that suits the interests of all involved and keeps the farm business on-track”, he said. This also helps to reduce the risk of a big ‘bust-up’ that can ruin an enterprise.”

Mr Bubner said it was a good idea to have an established relationship with a lawyer. “You are then ready if you need legal services for something reactive”, he said.

This article was featured in The Stock Journal on 29 April 2021