Making the step from farming to retirement can be a big challenge for many farmers with close ties to their land, but it is also one that can open doors to some exciting new opportunities, good physical health and new social networks.
A Rabobank survey conducted back in 2013 found retirement was weighing heavily on the minds of farmers surveyed, with two thirds of respondents aiming to hand over the farm in the next 10 years as they approached 65.
“Retirement is weighing heavily on the minds of farmers, with two thirds of those surveyed aiming to hand over the farm in the next 10 years.”
The 2013 census revealed the average age of cattle farmers was 56, up from 53 in 2006, and no doubt that has risen again with the latest census just being completed.
But making that move from the land to the new life stage of retirement can be daunting for farmers who often have a life of hard working habits that have helped them get to the point where they no longer need to employ those habits quite as hard.
Ian Handcock, Fit4Farming consultant and fitness coach works closely with farmers across the farming and personal level of their lives. His holistic approach to “healthy body healthy mind” means he often spends time helping farmers get their personal lives and health together, before starting work on their farm business.
Ian has noticed older farmers generally seizing the opportunities that can come with retirement, and are often in a better state to do so than their peers who may have spent years behind a desk before taking the gold watch of retirement.
“Often a good approach is to try and coax older farmers off the farm earlier, almost ahead of retirement, so they are not going ‘cold turkey’ so much when they finally leave.”
He says this helps them build up new social networks of contacts and friends, making the transition to a new home or even new location less abrupt and socially isolated.
“That social connection is vital, it is a case of almost replacing the social contact you may have got in farm discussion groups, with a new network, maybe through a mountain biking group.” Mountain biking in particular is proving highly popular with retiring farmers who often have the fitness levels required, don’t want the impact running has, and can still talk to their fellow cyclists while enjoying the ride.
Ian also reminds farmers intending to retire not to underestimate their mental resilience, and ability to adapt.
“Most of these guys (and women) are tougher than they realise. They have usually been through some tough times, nothing is insurmountable and they are a pretty resilient, adaptable bunch.”
However he appreciates for some, acknowledging that the farming career is over can take time to adjust to.
His own brother made the move from a commercial farm to a smaller 12ha block before ultimately retiring to become an avid mountain biker.
“That move to the smaller block was a really good transition stage for him.”
Long time Bayleys rural agent Lin Norris from Whangarei says while all farmers are different, health and age are obvious factors in how they manage their retirement.
“One thing I have noticed is that farms in general are now more business-like in their operation and this includes succession planning. So retirement is planned as opposed to being suddenly thrust upon them.
“Farms are now more business-like in their operation and this includes succession planning. So retirement is planned as opposed to being suddenly thrust upon them.”
“Some are keen to go straight to town whilst others prefer to retain some interest in the land – perhaps a smaller grazing block with a nice home that can be utilised as a dairy support unit or the like.”
Lin says the influence of wives and partners cannot be underestimated either.
“With the farm always coming first until then, this is the time for her to have first say on where they will enjoy their retirement.”
Wairarapa based Clinical Psychologist, Sarah Donaldson (East Coast Rural Support Trust) provides 1:1 support to farmers facing challenges. She says a key challenge for retiring farmers can be identifying differences between what they may want on retirement, and what their partner or other family members seeks.
“There can be differences in expectations and breakdowns in communication between family members when it comes to succession planning, and determining roles and responsibilities in retirement.
“Open communication and negotiation between a partner and family members about what life will look like practically for all once that retirement phase starts, including the level if any of involvement on the farm is important.”
Like Ian, she suggests a gradual transition from working full time and easing back provides time to develop other interests and roles to build upon.
“Having a sense of purpose or still contributing in some way is key to staying well and happy. Essentially carving out a new worthwhile existence beyond working life on the farm is really important.”