A new study by the University of Exeter has revealed that just 19 per cent of farmers plan on fully retiring, and those that do retire at a later age than the wider population.

The research found that the smaller the farm, the less likely the farmer will retire and 21 per cent of farmers plan to never give up.

Many also do not discuss their later life plans with loved ones.

Nearly 700 farms across England, Scotland and Northern Ireland took part in the study, undertaken in collaboration with NFU Mutual. The findings highlighted the unique approach farmers take to retirement. Handing down the farm can often be an extremely emotional time for those farmers who have worked hard on the land or with livestock their whole lives, with many clinging on to ownership and the way of life long after traditional retirement age.

Children often find it hard to approach the subject of taking over, and many are not given the keys until they themselves are middle aged or older.

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Professor Matt Lobley from the University of Exeter said: “Farming is a way of life, and it’s an identity. Facing up to the reality of stepping back and being no longer in charge tends to put people off.

"It’s all a bit daunting, thinking about handing over management of the business – it reminds people they’re getting old.

“There is much greater awareness of succession as an issue facing UK agriculture than there was ten to 15 years ago, but there is still a very pronounced need to move beyond the awareness stage to actually encourage planning. That struck me as something the industry desperately needs to address.”

Whether they plan to fully retire or not, the survey found that 43 per cent of farmers are planning to use income from their farm in later life.

Sean McCann, Chartered Financial Planner at NFU Mutual, who commissioned the study, said: “Handing on the farm doesn’t have to mean giving away the ownership of all the assets on day one. It can be helpful to think about the management of the business and ownership of the farm as separate issues.

“The farmer could look to hand over more of the day to day management of the business while retaining the ownership of the assets to a later date. One option favoured by a lot of farming families is to set up a partnership – which can give the younger generation a stake in the business.”

Professor Lobley added: “There wasn’t a lot of evidence that farmers were delegating or sharing decision making, and that’s an important part of the process.

“Farmers hang on to the cheque-book into their 70s and you meet farmers in their 50s who have never signed a cheque before. You have to gradually share decision making, so when the successor finally gets to run the farm as a business, they’re not thrown into the deep end.

“I try to tell farmers you can get rid of those parts of the job you don’t like, such as paperwork, or getting up at 4am for milking and stay involved in the things you do like.”