More ‘retired’ farmers keep their land

Some older farmers say retirement means financial security and fewer worries, but not necessarily working less.  |  Getty Images

Auctioneers say they are seeing fewer estate sales now than 10 to 15 years ago as retirees keep ties to their farms

“They always say to leave the party when you’re having the most fun,” says Betty Turner.

She and husband, Dennis Turner, love farming.

But on Oct. 25, after 40 years of farming, the couple are having an equipment auction and retiring.

“There comes a time to make some new memories, and that time is now,” said Betty.

However, the word retirement means something different to every farmer. There are as many variations on the concept as there are ways to do no-till.

One thing that all farmers seem to have in common is keeping land. Whether renting it out or crop sharing, retiring farmers are choosing to hold onto much of their land.

And many seem to forgo the word retirement in their vocabulary in favour of expressions such as slow down, restructure, realign and downsize.

Luke Fritshaw of Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers said the company is seeing fewer estate sales now compared to 10 to 15 years ago.

“There’s been a bit of a culture shift where people are starting to see the benefits of retiring and enjoying life a little bit and grandkids and kids and travel,” he said.

“Everybody’s motivation is always just a little bit didn’t.”

Betty Turner is still trying to wrap her brain around the definition.

“I don’t know what retirement means. It even sounds like a strange word because I don’t think we’ll ever really retire. We’re actually pretty active, busy people and I can’t really see that changing much,” she said.

“For each person, it’s their own personal road.”

After the Oct. 25 sale, the Turners are moving from their home quarter to an acreage they bought near Killarney, Man.

Of their 2,240 acres (14 quarters), they recently sold the home quarter, along with six others. They’re keeping seven quarters and renting them out.

Over the past 40 years the couple have raised four daughters, were named Outstanding Young Farmers in 1990, won the environmental stewardship award in 2000 and helped grows crops for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

And a particular milestone came this year when the family celebrated 127 years of farming.

One of the seven quarters they are keeping was where Dennis’ great-grandfather homesteaded in 1891.

“So we’ll still have that older yard site to come out to. We still have a vested interest in land,” said Betty.

“You can maybe take the farmer off the farm but never really the farmer out of the boy and girl.”

However, in spite of having one of his best crops ever, Dennis is not sentimental about selling the heritage family farm.

“Lots and lots of years are hard. I’m really ready, but people don’t get it. I’m good to go. It’s about time. I don’t think we have barnyard blindness. There’s more to life than farming,” he said.

“In your 20s and 30s you’re really aggressive and pushing, striving ahead, but when you get to be 60ish, you start reflecting back and you can see that life is finite.

“Now if we can squeak out a few good years without the pressures of farming, like six weeks of rain and cloud or whatever it is, that’ll be good.”

Lance Hingley from Bonanza, Alta., is also selling equipment in a November auction but not letting go of any of his 12 quarters.

“I’m kind of cutting my operation in half and realigning so that I’m hoping that my boys will take over. We’re trying to realign and make it economically feasible for them to step in,” he said.

“I was 64 years old yesterday and just kind of slow down and get out of the rat race a little bit for my boys.”

However, the grain farmer said he’s purposefully trying to find a balance between the farm, family and leisure time.

Retirement for him is the ability to have more control with one’s time and choices.

“I’m doing what I like doing now. I like farming. I like working. So I guess to me retirement is giving us more choices and a little bit more time to maybe be at the lake but not completely out of the workforce either,” he said.

“Retirement to me is financial security and less worries; maybe not work any less but just financially not have to worry about things so much.”

With the upcoming auction, Hingley said he’s starting to heed the advice shared by other farmers.

“You hear this from a lot of guys, is don’t wait too long. Retire when you’re still healthy or slow down and you can still enjoy life. Go and do things that maybe you missed out on,” he said.

“You hear it a lot that people retire and go to an old folks home because they can’t get around, and that’s not what I wanted to do.”

Allan DesRoches farmed for 60 years near Kelvington, Sask., before health issues got the upper hand.

He and his wife, Louise, sold the equipment three years ago but didn’t sell eight quarters, which helps provide a pension.

The couple continue to live at the home quarter.

Now in their 70s, the couple found it difficult to find hired help.

“A lot of times it’s the help that dictates that you’re going to rent, quit farming or retire,” DesRoches said.

His advice for others considering retirement is to be certain and ready.

“They’ve got to make sure that’s what they want to do. Once your land is rented out you can’t say, ‘well next year I’ll take it back and farm it,’ ” he said.

“Farming was more of a way of life, and a lot of people miss that part of it when they retire.”

However, while the DesRoches miss farming activities, especially during harvest, retirement has meant moving into and accepting a different phase of life, one where they have more freedom to choose.

“We don’t have to get up early to go farming if we don’t want to,” Louise said.

“We couldn’t handle that anymore, but it means I have time to go golfing and time to spend with my friends and family and go to the lake and all that kind of stuff.”

Added Allan: “You know the old farmer’s still in me, so I still enjoy that and puttering around in the yard here. If I feel like doing something I do, and if I don’t, I don’t.”

About the author

William DeKay's recent articles


Stories from our other publications