Couple retired when they were ready

Howard and Susan Jackson decided it was time to retire and travel after 40 years of farming. COVID-19 has delayed their travel plans, but they are happy with their decision to have two of their sons operate the farm.   | Mary MacArthur photo

Howard and Susan Jackson didn’t set an age deadline for retirement; instead, they waited until all the ducks fell in a row

MANNVILLE, Alta. — After 40 years, Howard and Susan Jackson have turned their farm and trucking business over to two of their sons and retired.

The decision didn’t happen overnight. The search for the best transition for their farm and six children began 13 years ago.

“We didn’t have a specific age when we wanted to retire. It was when all the ducks fell in a row,” said Howard, 61, who sees himself now as a hired hand to his sons.

“I am lucky. I still get to do farming. I just don’t have to do the brain work. I am like a hired man and I like it, but I think that is hard for a lot of people to give up control and just be a hired man.”

Turning the decisions over to the two farming sons, Blair, 38, and Tyler, 37, will allow the next generation to put their own stamp on the farm, said Susan, 60.

“Maybe now it is time for the farm to go in a different way. You have to embrace change.”

When Susan and Howard took over from Howard’s father, they had 26 cows. During their tenure they doubled the land base and increased their herd of commercial cows to 300 cows. They were early adopters of conservation tillage, began to graze their cattle on corn in the winter and started a trucking company.

The couple are proud of their accomplishments, but feel it is time to let their sons put their stamp on the farm.

“It doesn’t cause me any stress at all. I have seen all kinds of men that are 75 years old that are still controlling the reins and their son is 55 years old thinking about retiring themselves. That is not fair. We farmed for 40 years here. It is time to pass the torch on,” he said.

With six kids, it was clear that developing a farm transition strategy would be key to preventing the family and the farm from breaking apart. They were spurred to begin the transition after listening to a talk on farm transition by an accounting firm in nearby Vegreville.

“We did have family meetings with all the kids about what we wanted to do and they all spoke their mind. We started this process a long time ago,” said Howard, who advises other farm families to begin the transition process early.

“It is not something you talk about today and next year will be final. It is years,” he said.

All the children were asked if they were interested in farming. Blair and Tyler raised their hands and the transition plans began.

“When they were just young, we had a conversation that not everybody can have a piece of the pie. Who is farming here, who is not? How are we going to make it work so there is something for everybody, but it is not the farm,” said Susan, who believes 13 years later, all the children are content with their decisions.

“Whether that was the right thing or not, that is the way we did it. You need to make a choice of what is right for your operation. All the way along, we knew we were going to have a plan if we were going to be able to retire,” she said.

“It is hard with a farm when you have lots of kids,” added Howard.

Tapping into financial and legal experts, the couple came up with a plan to sell the livestock and equipment to the farming sons to allow an income for Howard and Susan. In addition, those sons pay the premium on life insurance plans for their four children siblings, as their share of the farm.

“I had lots of sleepless nights. Don’t be afraid to spend a little bit of money in this process. It costs some money to get things straightened out the way you want,” she said.

Having set the plans in place, the family proceeded to move forward. They ensured all the children had good money management skills and the farming sons were brought into the farm’s decision-making early.

“They’re all very good money managers. When we decided to pass the reins over we had complete confidence,” said Howard.

“I think down deep you just have to have confidence in your kids. We have complete confidence. They may not have done things the way I would have done, but I am OK with that,” he added, knowing his father showed patience with him when he took over the farm at 20.

Howard’s father was in poor health and farmed with a relative when Howard took over the farm. Transitioning from his father was long and bumpy and the couple knew they wanted their farm’s transition to be smoother.

Until travel restrictions are lifted, Howard Jackson spends time in his woodworking shop, including building shelves for his grandchildren. | Mary MacArthur photo

The original plan was after retirement Howard and Susan would spend more time travelling. They caught the travel bug 15 years ago and have spent time in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, exploring new countries and visiting family and friends. Before COVID-19 halted their plans, they had bought season tickets to the Edmonton football club and planned to take in the Brier curling championships in Kelowna, B.C., which has since shifted to Calgary. They wanted to bring their grandchildren to summer rodeos. Their plans included travelling across Canada and the U.S. in their travel trailer.

A trip to Mardi Gras in New Orleans a few years ago sparked their interest in attending Carnival in Brazil, the Portuguese celebration of music, culture, food and fun.

“You can sit on a beach in Hawaii when you’re 80, but you can’t go to Carnival in Brazil when you are 80,” said Howard.

“We have a little bit of a wild side to us yet.”

Susan said the couple travel well together and have no issues travelling on local buses by themselves, or on small group tours. She recommends people don’t wait until they’re retired to travel.

“It takes practice and energy.”

Until the travel restrictions are eased, the couple will stay close to home, help on the farm, and spend time with the grandchildren. With no travelling last year, Howard built a shop for woodworking and spends time fixing and building furniture, and building toys and gifts for his grandchildren.

Travel is always on their mind.

“We’re actually being pretty patient, but when things open up, we’re going,” said Susan.

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