Peter Craven has given his top tips for farming family businesses

Fourth-generation Lincolnshire farmer Peter Craven has published his Nuffield Farming report, entitled ‘The Formula for Family Business Success’.

Sponsored by Thatchers Cider, the full report is now available on the Nuffield Farming report library, with a recording of his presentation at the 2023 Nuffield Farming Conference in Exeter also available on the Nuffield Farming YouTube channel.

During his scholarship, Craven visited businesses in the UK and travelled to New Zealand, Australia, France, and the Netherlands. He aimed to understand how people can unite farming families together for the good of themselves, their families, their business, and the wider industry.

“Farming businesses can be likened to a ‘not so perfect’ cake, baked perhaps with ‘too many cooks’,” he wrote in the report. “When good times allow for plenty of cream you can cover up a multitude of sins but, when times turn hard, there is less cream to smooth over the cracks and it comes down to the family to perfect their recipe for success. 

“In the face of significant policy changes and the reduction of farm subsidies, the unity, innovation, and dynamism of farming families as both business partners and family members will be tested to the limit. Is it time to consider a new recipe?”

Craven believes that success comes down to the cultivation of family relationships, collaborative decision-making, and future planning together. His report emphasises the role of trust built through open, honest and fair communication.

“Drawing from the best family businesses, a common thread emerges - the Family Constitution or Charter. This living document outlines the ‘why’ behind the family business, integrating history, values, and the founder’s vision. It provides a framework for decision-making, roles, responsibilities, finances, and conflict resolution.”

Craven encourages open dialogue to develop and formalise the existing, often implicit, Family Charter: “It propels family businesses to address fundamental questions: Do they wish to remain a united family in business and, if so, how will they collaborate effectively?”

His key messages include: 

  • Managing a business is hard, managing a family is harder.
  • Getting the balance between both is critical.
  • We can take best practice learnings from other families in business.
  • There is a clear formula for family success based on.
  • Building trust.
  • Communicating openly, honestly, and fairly.
  • Uniting the whole family together on one page.
  • Creating a written Family Charter.