You only get one chance
I started farming in 1968. I had planned to start after graduating from college in 1961, but Uncle Sam had other ideas. The Berlin wall and Cuban missile crisis stalled my plans for several years. While I was away fulfilling my military obligation, at least two of the farms that I had been promised were rented to other farmers.
Taking over when my dad retired was my last chance to experience my ambition to be a farmer. With only 160 acres in my family and another 65 in Sharon's family, odds for success were poor. It was my last chance. I took it. I was lucky that opportunities turned up several times just when I needed them.
Fast forward 30 years. My children were grown. They had careers and families of their own. Neither was interested in farming as an occupation. It was time to be making plans for succession. The decision was to retire and let others take over. With only 220 owned acres, keeping the business intact was not an option.
On July 31, 2003 I gave notice to my landlords that I would not be renting their farms in 2004. I pulled the plug on the business that had taken 34 years to build. I cut my operation from 1000 acres to just the 220 owned by my family. In January, 2005 I had an auction and sold machinery that was not needed for my small operation.
In 2004, yields were the best in the history of my area. I actually raised 220 bushels per acre dry land corn on one of the farms that I still farmed. In 2006, we had excellent yields and good prices. The used machinery that I sold almost two years ago is now worth more than it was when I sold it. The outlook for agriculture has never been brighter.
It would be easy to look back and wish I would have stayed with full time farming a couple more years. I have had neighbors ask me if I regretted slowing down when I did. The answer is that I have no regrets. As with marketing, you have to make a decision on retiring without knowing what is ahead. If I had known that 2004 was going to be a record year for yields, or if I had known that 2006 was going to be a record year for farm income, I might have done things differently. Nobody knew those things.
On the other hand, I timed retirement as I did because spending long hours in the tractor and combine was becoming physically painful. I did it because I could see difficulties ahead in continuing to rent so many farms when my landlords were aging and having health problems. I could see that it was going to take several years to wind down the operation if I did not want to pay a huge income tax bill all at one time.
Even though I missed the chance to experience the good times of 2004 and 2006, I am glad that I did it as I did. Winding down gradually as I did I achieved at least part of the good times of the last three years. Doing it as I did has allowed me to have spare time that I did not have before. It gave me time to spend with the grand kids while they are small. I even got an award from the American Agricultural Economics Association that was a complete surprise to me!