Dr. Val FarmerDr.Val
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Established Farmers Offer Advice To Young Farmers

November 1, 2004

I received comments and ideas from farmers on what advice to give young couples starting out in farming. Some went into great detail about the step-by-step progression of their lives. They documented their decisions, sacrifices, and attitudes as living witnesses to the advice they offered.

What did their lives have in common? It was apparent that they had deep convictions about life and how it should be lived. This is the foundation upon which decisions are made. They described clear goals and dedicated work.

Their lifestyles reflected self-discipline, self-motivation, and independent judgment. They endured hardships and deprivations and stuck out a determined course. They didn't seem to be controlled by what others thought. Here are some excerpts from their letters:

Identity and independence. "We are proud for what we are and who we are. To make this ranch work, we've had faith in God, faith in life, dedication, hard work, priorities, humor and goals."

"Several years ago I told a neighbor, ‘I don't particularly care what my neighbor thinks, I don't pay their bills and they don't pay my bills.' About five years later he told me, ‘I don't think you do care what your neighbors think.’

"We don't own equipment to try to impress anyone. The fact is, we don't pattern our actions after any one, neighbor or relative. Trying to be like someone else can be fatal. Be yourself, do what pleases you, laugh at yourself, enjoy what you do."

"One thing that really eats at us is the complaining some people do about their fathers when they are waiting for the farm to be handed to them. I can't believe it when someone complains about doing it Dad's way when Dad foots the bills. When someone says it can't be done on your own today, I scream inside. It can be and we are proof of it."

Willingness to learn new things. "I agree that young farmers need an older mentor. My youngest brother would like to get started in farming. Luckily, he does consult with others as to the value and condition of the farms he looks at."

One reader had strong feelings about using the library and the Internet to get information on any subject. "The Farm Journal had a series of articles about the best farm shops. I wrote and asked them to show some pictures of farmers' libraries and files. A farmer can make repairs and build useful things in the shop, but he cannot learn new information about farming there."

"The manager of a farm must spend some time reading to keep up with new developments. A farmer must be educated in areas outside of farming as well as in farming."

"We both like to read. We have lots of books. I buy boxes of books at auctions. Yes, we are concerned about nuclear power plants, hazardous waste dumps, landfills, groundwater, and excessive taxes."

Conservative approach to debt. "It certainly helps to go in with someone else. My husband was able to take over his parents’ farm through labor and some capital. We didn't work for wages. He preferred to be paid in animals. In the first part of our marriage, we didn't draw a salary (although the farm paid for the utilities), because I had a teaching job. Even now, it seems most of the income still goes for farm expenses or farm investments.

"I think it is particularly important for young people not to get caught up in consumerism - 'keeping up with the Jones's.' So many overspend. So many make bad business decisions out of pride."

"We learned early on that every penny counts. We have been talked about for being that way and the things we did without. Some of the same friends sit back and listen to what we are doing now. We can proudly say we are debt free and have money in the bank."

"We just don't put a high priority on new vehicles. Why be in debt? We have neighbors who tried to cut a wide swath. Now they are being sold out. Have a plan, push your pencil, and, I would add, consult your accountant. Another suggestion, if you don't have the money, don't spend it. If you don't have the money, don't buy it. We don't have credit cards."

Live a balanced lifestyle. These families talked about the importance of family life, children, hobbies, fun, leisure, reading, vacations, service to others, mental growth, spirituality, and friendships. One reader offered this final piece of advice.

"Life is whatever you decide to make it. We decided that vacationing with our farm pickup and camper was what we could afford. We enjoy going this way and having fun.

"We are not large (describes farm operation) - but we enjoy what we do. We could be in debt, but chose not to be. As someone said, 'Stop and smell the roses.' Have fun now. Soon your children will be gone and/or you will be too old."

It sounds like good advice.