Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Farmers: Make Retirement A Goal

February 19, 2007

Farmers and ranchers are the world's worst at retiring. Why? They love what they do and they don’t take time to prepare for retirement adequately. Sometimes it is one or the other and sometimes it is both.

Why retire? Farmers, even if you love what you are doing there are still good reasons to retire.

- There are no guarantees that your health will hold up under the rigors of farming. There might be a disabling injury. Then what?

- Both husband and wife need to agree about continuing to farm. A wife might be looking forward to a change - traveling, visiting the grandchildren, moving to town or just having a less demanding lifestyle. The goals, needs and feelings of your partner toward retirement should be considered on an equal plane as your own. To be unified, you need common goals.

- Failing to retire might make a successful management transition in the family business difficult. The goals and needs of the rising generation on the farm are different. Failing to retire may hold back some aggressive business decisions or deprive the next generation of valuable management experiences. If you are a hard driving perfectionist, you will have a hard time stepping aside.

Once you have weaned yourself away from the farm, retirement can be fun. You will have things to do. Retirement is not a move into the rocking chair. It is like a career change - a change from work to another form of work of your own choosing. Work is defined as a purposeful and persistent effort toward meaningful goals.

Goals are important. Goals energize you, give you direction and purpose in life. You need to be needed, to be useful and to have meaningful problems to solve. As human beings, we are future oriented, problem-solvers who respond to challenges. Take goals away and life loses its meaning.

One definition of depression is the breaking of the connection between a person and their long term goals. Older people become depressed without enough to do and without something meaningful to occupy their time and attention.

With new goals, your mind will stay sharp and creative. Evidence shows that a career change causes a new burst of creativity that sustains people through a new creative life cycle. Learning and trying new things is vital to keeping people mentally young. People who are curious about the world and continue to expand their horizons do well in retirement - and in old age for that matter. When learning is a part of life, then retirement offers wonderful opportunities to grow.

When and how should you prepare for retirement? Start now by cultivating a balanced lifestyle with goals, interests and hobbies besides farming. People prepare themselves by belonging to organizations, engaging in community and church leadership and by having a rewarding family and social life.

Take vacations. Get away. Go to meetings. Volunteer. Visit your grandchildren. Have fun. Explore a hobby. Dust off your other interests. Taking time to have a life beyond farming helps you understand and value the time that becomes available through a decision to retire. These involvements should be a part of your lifestyle long before retirement.

By getting away from the farm, you will also learn to trust that the farm is in good hands in your absence. Your well-trained farming children will rise to the occasion and reward your trust.

Financial security. Often, retirement depends on financial arrangements that involve the transfer of assets to the next generation and their ability to make a profit in farming. You want the next generation of farm leadership to be competent so you can enjoy the fruits of your many years of labor. The land rentals and phased buyouts will be a major part of your retirement income.

Delegate, delegate, delegate. Take a hands-off approach and allow them to make decisions, take risks and make mistakes. Be good teachers. Share the financial information and decision- making.

Retire on the farm? The best plan is to have a pattern of democratic decision-making and significant delegation of managerial responsibility long before retirement age. A shared management style lends itself to semi-retirement because the older parents' presence doesn't interfere with the management opportunities of the next generation.

As a retired farmer, you can serve as a consultant as needed and pick and choose areas where you would like to stay directly involved. Your help will be welcomed if you don’t try to run the show. You can fit in where you are needed. You can help with the planting and harvest and still be free to go and pursue other interests. You will be out from under the heavy financial pressures and physical demands of the farm.

Even if you love farming and want no other lifestyle, prepare yourself to retire. Delegate and trust the next generation. They will welcome your help and your farming duties and you can work at the pace you want and with what your health can handle well into your older years.

Retirement means the freedom to choose exactly the kinds of goals you want in your life - even farming. Not retiring gums up succession on a family farm and will hurt more than help those you love the most. Not only do you create problems for your on-farm successors, you shortchange yourself and your spouse by pushing hard when there is a better, easier and more enjoyable way to live.