This article is an excerpt from Elaine’s book Farming’s In-Law Factor.

At different stages of our lives, we need different things.  These needs vary for each of us, but there tends to be a pattern. This is especially true for members of a farm family.

With each stage of our lives, tasks and needs that go along with being a farm family member present us with unique challenges. When we’re prepared for each stage, we handle our roles with grace.

Here are some ways you’ll see your roles, needs, and tasks on the farm change throughout different stages of your life.

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Farming roles for young children.

Toddlers and tweens are at the prime age for mentorship.

This is the time for solid foundation building. This means observation and testing of abilities—a time for absorption of a critical mass of information.

Kids are able to learn important lessons about farming. (Van Camp, Toddler Succession: It’s never too early to start teaching the “familiness” of family farming. 2013)

For instance, Megan’s five-year-old son is learning to sort and clean eggs and wash and snap beans.

Work ethic and love for farming starts early. I remember my son’s excitement as a toddler when he realized that seeds sprouting from the earth grow as plants!

Farming roles for young adults.

In our late teens and early twenties, we are differentiating ourselves from our family and exploring new ideas. This may include travel, education, and living away from the family farm.

As we approach our late twenties, we are considering marriage and creating our own family unit. The average age of marriage in Manitoba is about 30.

We are becoming independent and seeking our own projects and life purpose.

We may have an off-farm career and be farming on the side, or we may be farming full-time.

Twenty-somethings are just beginning to think about building up some assets.

Farming roles in our thirties.

The thirties are exhausting—farm families are growing, mortgages need to be paid, and there is a sense of building mastery.

This decade is crucial for farm families. It’s time to build a foundation for the future by gaining some control and equity.

If this doesn’t happen in one’s thirties, we can hit the wall of crisis on our fortieth birthday, waking up to realize that we don’t have independence, power, or control of assets.

Farming roles in our forties and fifties.

Often farmers in their early forties are managing and making the important decisions, as their parents are letting go of ultimate control of the business.

Once the fifties are celebrated, the task is to assess the quality of life on the farm.

Hopefully by this stage the business is viable and well-managed, and there is time for outside interests and pursuits.

The trick now is to pay attention to the quality of the marriage, the vision for the farm, and empowering our adult children to manage their own careers and lives.

There may be a crumbling point with an “empty nest” if the founders find themselves strangers to each other, or one spouse no longer wishes to sacrifice their needs for the sake of the farm or children.

Farming roles in our sixties.

“Starting over” is the term for the sixties.

This is when farmers may learn to be the hired hand again, or sometimes they find new business ventures to embrace.

The tension here is about still wanting to be useful, yet wanting time to have some fun or work just when we feel like it.

Women may be widowed in this decade and look for new roles. Men tend to have a hard time letting go of being the main manager. There is a lingering fear that their successors may sell out, make mistakes, or not do things their way.

Society tells us that we need to retire at 65, but farmers certainly do not succumb to that pressure. In fact, an Iowa study showed that over 30 percent of farmers have no intention of ever retiring! (Epley, Duffy and Baker 2009)

Farming roles in our seventies.

Health drives the tasks at hand in the seventies.

Many farmers are still very active at this age, but bull riders and aging cowboys may find their bodies have different ideas. The physical rigours of farming need to be managed at all ages, but it may all come to a head now.

As one chicken farmer quipped, “We are not 21 anymore!”

The seventies are meant to be a time of legacy building, with finances, relationships, letting go, and creating the transition and future we envision.

Grandchildren are part of the joys of this decade, and access to time with them is very important.

Farming roles in our eighties, nineties, and beyond!

I once gave a book prize away to the oldest active farmer in the audience. He was 83 and was still attending seminars to learn new things about farming.

The eighties, nineties, and beyond hold promise for those who have their health and connection to family.

People of all ages need love and respect. Hopefully the older generations can finish well, leaving behind a legacy they’re proud of.

Would you like more help securing your farming legacy and handling generational transfers?  Contact me today to learn about my farm succession planning!

Did you enjoy this article on farm family roles? You might also like:

Preparing Your Funeral: Why it’s Important for You and Loved Ones
Why Founding Farmers are Hanging On and How to Help Them Let Go
How to be Prepared for Planning Your Farm Legacy


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