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National Rural Women’s Conference discusses succession planning

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Succession planning was the topic of discussion at the National Rural Women’s Conference held recently in Canberra.

Rabobank  Succession Planning facilitator Kim Lee, who spoke at the conference, discussed how the succession planning landscape was changing with fewer women remaining on the land, yet those who returned bringing a new and evolved skill set to the family farming operation.

An initiative of the National Rural Women’s Coalition, the conference brought together close to 400 women from rural, regional and remote Australia to voice their concerns and aspirations, to meet with politicians and others from rural areas and to share their vision for the future.

Encompassing keynote speakers, workshops and discussions, delegates heard from more than 40 inspirational women sharing their experience of business, community, rural issues and the joys and challenges of rural life.

Ms Lee discussed the impact of the demographic change across Australian agriculture and how women are bringing a new skill set to the forefront of succession planning.

Quoting figures from a 2005 study published by the Department of Land and Water Australia, she said that annual entry to farming as a career for men had declined by 40% from 1976 to 2001, and by 70% for women.

Ms Lee observes that the basis of succession is transferring the family business from one generation to the next. She explained that the reason for the continuing trend of fewer women going back to the land as partners and as operators in their own right was complex but education had played a significant role, resulting in women having established separate careers in or outside agriculture. Even when they return to the farm, they return as business partners.

As the manager of Rabobank’s Succession Planning services, Ms Lee has extensive experience in working with rural farming families to achieve personal, family and financial benefits for each generation. She has noticed the transformation in how women approach family succession discussions, noticeably changing the dynamics of how the process is undertaken.

Ms Lee said from an operational perspective, the contribution women make to the running of the farm business is seen in their willingness to communicate. Women play a pro-active role in setting up meetings with staff to coordinate planning or discussions around operational issues, attending field days, being more active in the community, taking part in local grower group meetings and showing a real commitment to rural business as a whole.

Increasingly, women moving to the country onto farms or non-farm employment are preferring access to larger regional centres where the possibility of pursuing careers or supplementing farm income is greater. In Ms Lee’s view, family income is now a combination of off and on-farm earnings, partly due to the educational status of the operators, male or female.

Ms Lee believes that the contribution women make will be greater even though there are fewer of them.

Rabobank, a major sponsor of the inaugural National Rural Women’s Conference is the world’s leading food and agribusiness bank, one of Australia and New Zealand’s largest rural banks and a major provider of corporate financial services to the region’s food and agribusiness sector.

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