Farming father and son tell two sides of the story of succession

Jeremy and John Alexander at Hardwick Hall farm in Long Stratton

Jeremy and John Alexander at Hardwick Hall farm in Long Stratton - Credit: Hardwick Hall

It is a tricky time for any family farm to negotiate – the transfer of responsibility from one generation to the next. Here, the father and son team at Hardwick Hall, near Long Stratton, give their views on succession, and what they have learned from each other.

Farming operations at Hardwick Hall, Long Stratton

Farming operations at Hardwick Hall, Long Stratton - Credit: John Alexander

FATHER: Jeremy Alexander

'Having spent over 40 years farming, first in partnership with my parents and in recent years with my wife Susan, it is time to consider the future of the family farm. We have three daughters and one son, all of whom have mucked in over the years, especially at harvest time.

'John is the youngest and at the age of 24 has recently become a partner. We are pleased that in the last few years, with encouragement, he has worked on farms in both Australia and New Zealand and before that on a neighbour's farm where a highly mechanised contracting business is run. He has been very lucky to have worked with all concerned in his apprenticeship years.

'Succession can be a difficult subject and I think it's important to take it step by step. I am very conscious of the fact that, even at John's age, I can learn as much from him as he can from me, as he has used a much wider spectrum of equipment than I have at home.

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'Being an all arable farm the soils are the most important tool we have and already since John has been involved we have changed the traditional cultivation methods regarding rotational ploughing and over-winter cover crops.

'I am very happy to listen to John's ideas and talk through whether they are likely to work and, importantly, the financing of them. GPS and computerised accounts are very much on the agenda, with the GPS on the farm machinery in its fourth year on the farm.

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'Succession can be an exciting time and as John takes more control I will watch with interest to see if he makes as many mistakes as I have in my time.'

SON: John Alexander

'With my father being a third generation farmer I have always thought I would like to follow in his footsteps and one day return home to the family farm.

'This happened a year ago after spending time away working on other farms and in other countries. Dad was the one to encourage me to work on different farms, mainly to expand my knowledge on farming and learn new ideas that one day I might bring back and implement on our farm – but partially so I didn't break his machinery while learning.

'Since being home many things have happened and the process of succession has started. I am now a partner alongside my parents, as my father was with his when he came back to the farm. The methods and ideas learned then helped persuade Dad to leave the plough in the shed.

'Luckily he is very open minded and willing to try new methods if it means a more productive arable operation. We also moved to an over-winter cover crop instead of the traditional winter plough to help improve our soil structure and to add more green manure into the system.

'Even though Dad hasn't embraced all the modern technology, such as mobile phones, he did embrace the use of GPS systems and variable fertiliser applications before I came home. Whereas, in the office the computerisation has not progressed from pen and paper and maybe an odd email, therefore it is on my 'to do' list.

'I still have a lot to learn and I will follow what Dad says and learn what he's willing to teach, but I will continue to leave the farm and do courses on something to do with agriculture as much as I can, to keep improving my knowledge and look for the next 'Big' idea.

'I very much appreciate Dad's experience, he has been farming far longer than I have and I would be foolish not to heed his advice, some of the time anyway.'

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