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Across the editor's desk: February 2007

Agriculture.com Staff 01/25/2007 @ 9:54am

I was told of a farm closeout sale last fall for a reluctant retired farmer. He was 94. He apparently had farmed until the family finally persuaded him that his ability and safety around machinery was a big concern.

The fact that this longtime farmer had no plans to retire is not really surprising. A majority of you, 54%, haven't decided when to retire or don't ever intend to retire, according to a new survey by Successful Farming magazine. Nearly 51% of farmers are over age 55.

Young eyes are intently watching farmers who appear to be within a retirement age. Status of retirement-age farmers comes up often in discussions by farmers and aspiring farmers in Agriculture Online community groups.

One long discussion string began in December with a posting by a man in his 20s. He had a college education, a good job in banking/insurance and a young family. "However," he posted, "farming is my true passion."

He went on to say that his father and his father-in-law both had 1,300-acre operations. "Father-in-law is 55 years old. Dad is 61. Get along with both great, and feel that both would help me a great deal in getting started," he wrote.

"Just need to get them to retire first!" he added. He meant that sentence in jest, apologized later and accepted a proper admonishment.

"At their ages, your father and father-in-law have quite a few years before they can retire. And maybe even more than that before they themselves had planned on giving up active farming," replied one farmer. "It grates on my 52-year-old nerves a bit to read that for you to move forward, you have got to get them to retire first."

Rather than abrupt retirement, many farmers are in position to gradually transition the management and ownership of the family farm to the next generation. But it requires a great amount of frank family discussions, wise counsel, and years of planning.

"Few farmers have a pension or retirement account nest egg," writes Farm Issues Editor Cheryl Tevis in "Retirement realities," a special feature in this month's Successful Farming magazine. "Add to it a mind-set that handing over the reins -- or selling the farm -- is a morbid milestone."

My hope for American agriculture is that every family operation that has a chance to transition to the next generation will do what it takes to successfully make that happen.

If your operation has no family successors, perhaps you'll consider helping start a new farmer. It isn't easy, but it may be the most satisfying decision of your career.

Aspiring and beginning farmers are invited to Ames, Iowa, February 3 for the second annual Beginning Farmers Conference at Iowa State University. See complete details at www.ucs.iastate.edu/mnet/beginningfarmer/home.html. The cost is $35.

Consider sponsoring a young farmer, perhaps a family member. I'd suggest you attend yourself, but I guarantee the enthusiasm and passion for farming that you'll experience at the meeting will keep you from ever wanting to retire!

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