Succession: First thoughts, ideas and experiences

When in conversation with John Leggett in relation to the re-birth of my Soils for Life blog, the topic of SUCCESSION PLANNING came to the fore.


Now, as with many things that I “have a go at”, I am no expert on succession planning, however I suspect that you, as a reader, also are not!

I do however have some multi-generational experiences in this field.

Firstly though, I would like to explore the definition, according to Dr. Google, the wizard, who resides within my smart phone, on which I am writing this story.

Ask Google

1. A number of people or things of a similar kind following one after the other 

Now I have the experience of alarm bells going off in my head!

“Things of similar kind". Ah, what ever happened to “diversity"?

“Following one after the other". This for me has connotations of “mindless" following, with little scope for thought, or innovation. 

2. The action or process of inheriting a title, office, property, etc.

My mind here immediately races to many poor examples of inheritance, which have actually contributed to the “decline of a dynasty", due largely to lack of a selection criteria!

Let Dr Google continue: The gradual replacement of one type of ecological community by another in the same area, involving a series of orderly changes, especially in the dominant vegetation. Succession is usually initiated by a significant disturbance of an existing community.

Now I am with this definition of succession, and in particular the first sentence. “gradual replacement", “a series of orderly changes", “in the dominant vegetation (personalities)”.

Now this is obviously specific to matters organic & vegetative, however, I feel that as families, businesses, farms, there is a real need to treat the process of succession as an organic process.

Sentence two: “usually initiated by significant disturbance".

This is where I feel we need to alter the organic process, and initiate the succession planning, and actions, before significant disturbance occurs.

Yes, all too often I see succession, or change being initiated by disease, death, hardship, etc.

My first experience with succession

Now to get to some of my experiences with succession planning.

I grew up on a family beef cattle operation in Queensland.

My grandfather had migrated from Ireland. My father & uncle were in partnership, through what I call “the golden age" in the Queensland beef cattle industry. Land clearing (the Brigalow Development Scheme), improved pastures, and a change in cattle genetics (British to Bos Indicus).

My uncle had no children, while in our family, we were four boys.

There was no thought of doing other than following in our father’s footsteps.

While still in primary school (I am the youngest son), the succession plan was laid out.

One contributing factor to the dissolution of the partnership between my father and uncle was succession.

My father was “into" handing over the farm, while my uncle was not this way inclined.

Dad “re-passioned" (the new terminology for retirement) at sixty years of age, when he & Mum moved to a small farm at Maleny.

At this time three of my brothers were already on their portions of the family landholding, while I was working & travelling.

I leased my portion of the farm back to my father, mother, & one of my brothers, who as part of the succession plan, had remained in partnership with our parents.

My parents were very clear about their succession plan, and it was very clear to us four boys.

This took place decades before succession planning had become a “mainstream" agenda item.

I am not familiar with how my grandparents structured their succession plan, or even if they had one. The one thing that I was aware of though, is that the two sons inherited the farm, while the four daughters did not.

Back to the ecological analogy

Another extract from my Google searching on succession planning, again is specific to ecological communities, and I quote, “Unidirectional change in the composition of an ecosystem as the available competing organisms, and especially the plants respond to, and modify the environment.”

Yes, with a few word substitutions, this could well be used in relation to farm succession planning!

Some of the words that appeal to me are “UNIDIRECTIONAL” and “COMPOSITION OF AN ECOSYSTEM (BUSINESS)”. “AVAILABLE COMPETING ORGANISMS" and “RESPOND TO AND MODIFY".

Ah the makings of a truly organic succession plan!

My next succession experience

Now to my own succession planning experience with our beef cattle property in Central Queensland, “Dukes Plain”.


I had three children, a leasehold property, land values that were well above production return capability, insufficient enterprise size for three families, and the children had interests other than beef cattle and land management.

Stage one: Accept that I am not immortal.

Stage two: Accept that whomever succeeds me will “do it differently".

Stage three: Engage a facilitator, and have a family meeting to discuss options.

Stage four: Begin to action the outcomes of the family meeting. This involves selling the farm, and re-structuring assets so that division/distribution is relatively easy.

Stage five: Launch sales initiative for the farm, while I go through the process of sorting out my healthy, and unhealthy, attachments to this tract of land that has been in the family for ninety years.

Stage six: Continue to operate the farm as if I am going to be here for ever!!! At this moment, I am by many, considered to be totally crazy! Why continue as if I am going to be here for ever?

I began by acting as if the property would be sold immediately. Stopped any new development initiatives, had no future plan for stock or land, no goals to work toward, etc.

I soon realised that the property/business was “falling to bits before my eyes!”.

I quickly understood the need for a future plan, and acting on this plan. (Acting as if I was going to be here forever!).

Ten years on, a sale of the property was effected!!!

Ah, emotional ties

By now I had fully, well I thought I had, digested the emotional connections with the landscape, and the business.

I was well aware that operating the farm was getting in the road of what I really wanted to be doing.

An opportunity to lease back came with the sale, and a five-year lease was negotiated.

The property is now managed by a young couple, and we have entered into a partnership agreement. Yes, they have some “skin in the game!”

My realisation from leasing back, is that it was an action which indicated I still had not fully released the farm. Ah emotional ties!!!

If I were to do it again, what??

I would do nothing differently. A great opportunity has come from “my remaining emotional tie", and that has been the creation of an opportunity for a young couple to step forward into an agricultural enterprise, which fits with their future goals, and visions.

For me it has provided the opportunity to deal with my final emotional ties to this land, and I am in a position to happily exit the enterprise, while my partners can continue. Ah what a sweet transition! End of “channelling"!