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Does a Healthy 78-Year-Old Farmer With an Heir Have to Retire?

Can Their Problem Be Solved?

The Problem:

Submitted by email from T.K.

I have farmed all my life. It’s both my job and my hobby. I have planted and harvested 55 years of crops. Every year is unique with ups and downs, but I love it. Looking back, it seems crazy that my wife and I now own 1,400 acres of land. My son also loves farming, and we have been farming together for about 20 years. Sometimes I get a little feeling that he would like for me to step aside. My wife has thought that for the last 15 years! We have friends who go south for the winter, but I’d rather stay around the farm. Our son is very capable, but I don’t know what else I would do if I weren’t farming. Why should I have to quit something I enjoy? Haven’t I earned the right to stay on the farm as long as I want to? 

The Solution:

It sounds to me like you are the definition of the American farmer who simply loves what he does and couldn’t think of anything else he’d rather do. Yes, you have earned the right to stay on the farm as long as you want. I don’t think that having you stay on the farm is the problem, but here are six questions that may help keep everyone on the same page.

1. Have you and your wife sat down with your son and his wife to clarify your intent to continue farming as long as your health allows? I have had some farming heirs get very frustrated with their dad who has said for the last 15 years that “next year will be the last year.”

2. Have you allowed your son to be a part of the decision-making? I don’t think it is healthy if a 78-year-old dad is still handing out the orders for a 50-year-old son on a daily basis. It is one thing to be out there every day and another to be a daily dictator.

3. Is your involvement in the farm promoting growth or stifling growth? Do you get the feeling your son is simply happy with what is already there, or is he itching to grow the farm?

4. What part of the farm do you really like the most?

I have worked with multiple families in which Dad remained highly involved in the farming operation well into his 80s. Do you really like to do everything? Some just like to operate certain pieces of equipment and tinker in the shop. Oftentimes, dads can start to turn parts or all of the operation to the son, who in return then offers an open door to Dad allowing him the freedom to work on the farm when he wants to. 

5. Do you recall how your dad handled things? Sometimes I hear people very frustrated with how their dad handled things, and then they turn around and repeat the exact same thing with their son.

6. Do you have a clear and financially feasible plan outlined allowing your farming son to continue operating while being fair to the others if you are incapacitated or when you die? A lot of tension can be removed from your farming son if he knows the distribution plan. 

Personally, I hope to still be healthy and farming at 78 just like you, but I don’t expect my son to just take orders from me until then. I would not have wanted that for myself, so I cannot expect that he would like that either.

Myron Friesen is co-owner of Farm Financial Strategies in Osage, Iowa. During the past 18 years, he has worked exclusively with farm families across the Midwest to develop farm transition strategies. Friesen grew up on a Mountain Lake, Minnesota, farm. He owns and operates a 910-acre crop and livestock farm with his wife and four children.

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