Is it time to quit?
The last two weeks there have been two threads on the "Farm Business" talk page concerning the subject of quitting farming. One was from an individual who was wishing his grandfather would quit. The other wanted to quit himself but wondered about the effect on his parents. At some point, everyone quits. Some do it because they have to. Some quit because they want to.
It hasn't been all that long since I was considering that option. There was no one in my family who wanted to carry on the operation. It is probably just as well, because there is not enough land in my family to be a viable operation. Being so close to population centers, the prospect of continuing to rent 80 percent of an operation big enough to support a family was questionable.
It has been just over three years since I gave notice to my landlords that I was giving up their land for 2004. In retrospect, retiring before I turned 65 was a great decision. My plan was to sell the 2003 crop grain in 2004 and the machinery in 2005 to even out income for tax management purposes. Even with this strategy, I paid a lot of income tax the last two years. I don't think there is any way to avoid that problem.
My plan was to keep enough machinery to continue farming the 200 acres that we own. I am fortunate to be able to work with a neighbor at harvest. With me owning the corn head and one truck, the ratio of equipment investment to acres farmed is equitable. Planting in the spring and driving and unloading trucks in fall gives me exercise and fresh air. I have the satisfaction of being an active farmer, even if it is on a greatly reduced scale.
In 1999 I was on a field day program with Dr. Dale Flowerday. An eighty-year old farmer in the audience asked Dale if it was time to retire. Dr. Flowerday, himself over 70 years old, asked the farmer if he still enjoyed farming. The answer was "yes." He replied "Then don't quit".
That was good advice. Farming is good therapy. I feel better when I get out and do something active. I like working on the computer. After a couple of hours, I get aches and pains that go away with outside activity. The individual who wanted his grandfather to quit needs to find farm work that will keep the old guy involved but not put anyone at risk if he is losing agility or mental faculties.
For the individual who is getting tired and wants out, my solution would be to cut back, but maintain some of the farming operation until he is sure he is secure in a job that he likes and pays well. One of the worst moves in his situation is to quit farming and later regret the change. Once a farm business is discontinued, there is no way to get it back. If he farms part time, at least it will be a stress reliever, if the outside job turns out to be not what he wants. The old saying about the grass being greener certainly applies in this situation.
Friends and acquaintances told me I would regret retiring early. If I am going to regret it, it better start soon. They warned me it would be hard to sell my machinery. Selling the machinery was like getting a monkey off my back. Machinery needs to be maintained even if not used. I am sure it would have been more difficult if I had sold everything and quit completely.