4 Reasons For Older Farm Owners To Retire Earlier

Nor' east Thinkin'

Reasons farm owners should retire earlier: Today’s farm requires continual investment – increasingly incompatible with older farmer goals

Published on: May 24, 2012

This week, our Farm Progress editorial staff engaged in an intensive conference to gear up our technical know-how to better serve you our readers over the coming years. Our bosses happily pointed out that our cumulative years of editorial experience and understanding of agriculture are unmatched.

Normally, you might expect our egos to swell with pride. But the oldsters among us raised our eyebrows in suspicion – rightfully due to Boss No. 1’s next comment that went something like this: “Looking over the gray hair and bald heads in this bunch, that’s scary!”

Then he explained. Those born after 1980 when digital technologies began to be introduced grew up learning computer technologies as they came along, and now are comfortable with laptops, smartphones, I-Pads and computerized games. Many of this bunch spend as 8 to10 hours a day with what older generations might call “toys”. Yes, that sounds excessive, and may hurt their work productivity.

Many of today’s children are digitally addicted – a very bad thing, as there’s growing medical evidence that excessive internet and digital gadgets may damage the brain. Some parents – believe it or not – actually use laptops, I-Pads and computerized games as baby sitters.

Those of us born before 1980 may be more appropriately tagged with the “digital emeritus” status – much slower in adopting to new technologies that can increase professional value. Older farmers are vulnerable to the same malady.

How this relates to older farmers

The maturation process in every one of us affects how readily we “buy into” newer technologies – whether in communications or farming. Of course, there are exceptions. You and I, for instance, might be exceptions for some technologies, but not others.

Consider the following four concerns about how becoming an older farmer impacts your outlook and your farm’s future:

  • Shorter investment outlook: You’ll see the radically different perspectives of the young farmer versus the older farmer in American Agriculturist’s July Profit Planner column. In a nutshell, the son wants to improve a grain setup for the future, while his near-retirement father wants to just fix the damage and not invest for the future.

As Panelist Glenn Rogers put it: “The older we get, the shorter our “long-term” view of debt, investment and payback. Instead of looking at five, 10 or 20 years down the road, older farmers often think two to five years. Retirement, medical and family needs may overshadow a longer term view.”

  • Innovation slows with age: Youth tends to be more open to technological innovations. That can be good or bad.

One older farmer friend was livid that his son bought a new planter with all the precision placement “bells and whistles”. Today, however, that father loves the technology’s benefits.

  • Jeopardizing the farm’s future: Almost daily, at least one Northeast farm gives up its future by failing to update and reinvest in the business. That’s often why you see so many run down farms and low-producing dairy herds. The older farmer has chosen to “milk” the assets dry.
  • Closing the next-gen door: All the above points effectively tell the next generation that farming isn’t a future option. Conversely, when a father seriously considers a next-gen proposal opening with “We need to do more than milk cows.”, he’s opening that door.

These are solid reasons why virtually every farm transition expert strongly advises clients to start planning their exit strategies about age 50 – not when you get around to it!

And, that's why American Agriculturist recently initiated a partnership effort with Pennsylvania's Center for Dairy Excellence, Pennsylvania Farm Link and Penn State Cooperative Extension leaders in several Northern Tier Marcellus shale counties to help older dairy farm owners make a smooth transition to next-gen farmers.

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