A weather-worn farmer has recently transferred a major part of the farm business to his millennial successor. He asks his spouse, “What are we going to do for the next 20 years?” She reflects with a hint of surprise in her voice, “What do you really want?” The truth about reinventing your life after farm retirement is that it can be both exciting and scary. The ideas offered in this blog post will help you start to envision what your farm retirement may look like.
Restructuring Your Down Time
Even if you are years away from farm retirement, the ‘Great Pause’ may have given you some idea about how difficult it can be for farmers to restructure their downtime.
One of the interesting outcomes of the professional sports shut down during the pandemic is that many farm men have been forced to re-arrange their downtime. Farmers fear being bored because they are used to working long hours. They typically are not thinking of getting ready to re-design their downtime.
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The Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies conducts an annual survey about how retirees spend their time. Here are some of the latest findings.
67% are spending more time with family and friends.
My farmer spends time with his son every day since they farm together. As a coach, I find many farming men have not kept up close relationships with friends; they often tell me they do not have close friends. For women who have multiple roles and tasks, the lack of friendship may put more pressure on them to have activities for the “semi-retired” spouse. This is a potential source of conflict if the farm dad does not have a clear role on the farm or activities that he enjoys beyond the farm.
Work on your friendships intentionally and start building a new network of people you enjoy being with, for work and/or play. Reaching out by phone and texting has been one of the wins of being confined to home this spring.
44% are pursuing hobbies.
“Elaine, my hobby is farming; that is all I want to do!”
Exactly. Independent, resilient, hard-working, creative, innovative farmers who love to make deals are not happy, just golfing. I met one recently who sells vehicles and trailers as his “side hustle” to create more cash flow. Hobbies can also include mentoring others in the skills you possess, like welding, mechanics, trading stocks, etc.
39% are travelling.
Heading south is a long-time option for many farmers who like to congregate in Arizona, but what happens when they reach 80 years old and still have a good 15 years or more of life to find meaning and purpose? Don’t get me started on my “strong warning for 80-year-olds” who are still holding the bulk of the farm wealth. It’s high time to let go!
21% are volunteering.
4-H Canada would love to hear from you and your ag society, the local curling rink, hockey arena, and local church. Many hands make light work, and perhaps you want to spend some of your farm retirement volunteering on a sporadic basis, not in a regular service club. Boomers have a strong work ethic that converts well into volunteerism. Just remember to show gratitude and appreciation. In our small town, the local recycling center has a gang of folks who really enjoy their twice-weekly antics of sorting stuff, and they proudly wear matching t-shirts. The town is intentional about recognizing their value.
15% are taking care of grandchildren.
Childcare in rural areas is difficult, and sometimes the grandparents are the best solution. Other times, grandma has told me that she does not want to spend her farm retirement as the “daycare.” One retired nurse in our community is fostering babies.
9% are caregiving for a loved one.
This is a huge stress on families that needs a contingency plan. I see dementia as a large looming issue for rural farm families who want their loved ones to stay in place as long as it is workable. We need better support systems to help farm families navigate caregiving. Our church family is currently using a visitation schedule to support a person in long-term care. Have you met with your financial planner to discuss contingency plans like long-term care insurance or critical illness insurance?
4% are pursuing an encore career.
I know a dairy farmer, age 50, who sold his cows to his successor when he realized that milking cows for 30 years was enough. The father then started a new business venture. My encore career after farm retirement is going to be speaking professionally, as my hero is 75 and still booking large audiences. Our family doctor has warned us to “Have some fun because it all falls apart at age 75!”
4% continue working in the same field.
Ha! 70% of farmers are likely not retiring and working in the same fields, literally! The pace and the nature of the work changes, but the passion for agriculture and making independent decisions is the foundation for farmers not letting go of their roles on the farm. Have an ongoing dialogue with the millennial managers to see what a good working arrangement is for all ages and stages of life.
Farm Retirement: Ask What You Really Want
The statistics above detail how other people are spending their retirement time. What will your farm retirement look like? I suggest you start by asking what you really want. For example:
- More Time with Family and Friends: Who are you inviting over? Make the call.
- Pursuing Hobbies: Is it time to build a classic car or tractor?
- Travelling: Would doing a farm tour in Australia or Ireland be fun for you?
- Volunteer Work: Teach the younger generation how to lead a steer or fix an engine.
- Grandchildren Time: Use Zoom if your grandkids live far away, and find new digital ways to stay connected. Consider writing a legacy journal of your life story or printing photos.
- Self-Care: Reach out to your emotional support network and embrace good self-care. Protect good mental health.
- Keep Farming in the Field: Ask for feedback on what is working well and what needs to shift. As we age, our skills may change, and energy management is key.
Getting ready to “retire” is not my choice of words; I like to call it getting ready to “reinvent your role on the farm.” If farm retirement sounds like it may be difficult for you, perhaps you would like to “test-drive” the experience? If so:
- Try renting an Airbnb in a new location.
- Stay at home on the farm and engage more in your local town.
- Invite visitors to live with you for an extended stay (we have an intern from France).
- Block out time on your calendar for volunteering and set up a new weekly routine.
You can also get ready for your farm retirement by setting a living allowance for your “reinvention” stage and practicing living on that income stream for six months. Your expenses may stay similar to what they are now, just being replaced by new items.
Farm retirement is about reinventing yourself and discovering what will make you happiest during your later years. The sooner you start thinking about it, the easier it will be when the time comes…in fact, you may even start to look forward to it.