A functional medical doctor I heard on a podcast one day said, “Don’t let age be your cage” when addressing folks who complain about the aches and pains of aging. Society says that we ought to “retire” at 65, that 50 is the new 40…and on it goes. As a farm coach, I actually would like you to pay attention to your age, at least the decade you are currently in. It gives us some clues about what farming priorities take center stage, and what tasks need to be addressed as we take more journeys around the sun.
Farming Priorities from the 20s to the 70s
Every decade of life on the farm comes with its own farming priorities and focuses. Here is what I have learned from my personal and farm coaching experiences.
1. 20s: Independence
Agronomists and agriculture grads in their twenties are eager to strike out and get some independence. Some neuroscientists would quip that the male brain is not fully mature until age 23, so give folks time to reach their potential to make wise decisions. But let’s not cut people out of the planning picture because of the digits on their driver’s license. Your successor would like a timeline to know what age he or she can start signing a full-time employment contract for the farm business. They also want to know what timelines you have for sharing the growth in the equity of the business.
Imagine a young agronomist who is committed to a 20+ year career serving other farmers, and she also wants to have an equity stake in her family farm. She hits resistance from parents who just want her to “trust” them. My CAFA lawyer colleagues can solidify certainty by adding her name to a land title. Succession planners can provide a range of time for pieces of land to transfer over time with a well-written rental agreement and land ownership plan. The next decade of being thirty on the farm is crucial. Folks at this age cannot sleep at night with empty promises—achieving a level of independence is one of the most important farming priorities for people in their 20s.
2. 30s: Mastering Success
Thirty-somethings want to master the success of running a farm business, and they do not want to be micro-managed. This is the decade of raising young children, disrupted sleep, off-farm employment, and mortgages to pay. Exhausting!
Hopefully, the culture on your farm is a spirit of shared beliefs and values of financial transparency. You can use this decade to mentor fantastic co-management and enterprise specialties of the next generation. I’ve seen this generation master a custom spraying or haying operation to help show their management and marketing skills. This is also a great decade to process your unique business plan and present it to the farm business founders.
3. 40s: Power & Control
The top farming priories for young farmers in their 40s are security and recognition. They want to be respected for two decades of contribution to the wealth creation on the farm. They also need written operating, partnership, and buy/sell agreements to ensure that they are getting equity. If you are forty, still “just an employee,” and own no farm assets, you are likely unhappy and in conflict on a regular basis with the farm owners. You also want control over decision making.
4. 50s: Quality of Life
Fifty-something farmers wonder what they should be letting go of to simplify their lives. Thoughts of “Freedom 55” may be a source of grief if debt servicing is still a struggle, and holidays are a fairy tale, not a reality.
I can see clearly the tired face of the dairy farmer who has milked cows for 33 years, and at age 51, wonders if his life with cows has few options for change. This decade shines the flashlight on asking what kind of quality of life you have fallen into. Do you have the courage to ask the question, “Is this the life I’ve always wanted?”
If you had your children at a young age, you might also be wondering about your succession plan for the next generation when your parents still are holding a lot of farm assets in their 80’s. Do you see where this can be really challenging? You would like to have ownership in your own right, but it has been withheld from you. Your adult farm children are wondering if there is even going to be a chance to grow their equity since they see it stuck with grandparents and are starting to lose hope. FCC Transition Specialist Patti Durand says, “Without hope, you are hooped.” You can watch her videos on YouTube.
5. 60s: Hired Help and Reinvention
Sixty-year-old farmers have sore backs, more aches, and pains, and pay more attention to their health, as they are going to the funerals of friends. This is a key decade for decisions about what a good day on the farm looks like to you as you “reinvent your role.” You no longer want to work 100-hour weeks unless it is in a smooth-running combine. You might not want to start the trucks when the wind chill is minus 40. It’s a decade of reinvention and possibly starting over as “labour on call.” Letting go in this decade is hard if you feel that the successor might fail, or is not as task-oriented to “get ‘er done” as you are. You also want to ensure that your income stream for the next three decades is secure, using income from the farm and from your personal wealth bubble that you have created with your financial planner.
6. 70s: Legacy
Reaching the 70s with no assets outside of your farm business is keeping you up at night. Inflation is not your friend. The farm perks you have enjoyed all these years ($14K a year or more) will disappear if you move to town or down south. So you are not moving, and there is conflict about the folks who live in the main yard where the barns, fences, and bins are. How about embracing the role of mentor and wise elder in your seventies and beyond? Don’t let age be your cage, you have lots to offer, and you can still operate equipment safely if your brain works well.
Each decade of life on the farm comes with its farming priorities and focuses. Have you mastered the challenges of your decade, or are you still facing the issues you fought in earlier years? It is never too late to get back on track and ready yourself for reinvention and legacy in the later years. I just gave you a roadmap for success…the rest is up to you!