June 29, 2001
Farmers don't know the meaning of retirement
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. When you ask most farmers about their crops, they'll tell you quite a lot. When you ask them about retirement, odds are they don't have much to say.
When 35 farmers from various parts of the country were asked about retirement, few of them had any idea of what it would be like for them, said Sharon DeVaney, Purdue University associate professor of consumer and family sciences.
"I was surprised that they really don't think about it," she said, "No one mentioned a specific date for retirement and no one was planning to completely stop work."
Her insights parallel the experiences of W. Alan Miller, Purdue farm business management specialist. Miller works with farm families on estate planning and farm transfer issues.
"I often hear them say, 'I'll always farm, I don't have any hobbies,'" he said.
However, planning to work until the day you die, is probably not wise.
"When you are age 30, or even 40, you may think you don't want to retire, but a lot can change in 20 or 30 years," said Miller. "Even if you don't think you want to retire, it would be good to have the option to retire if you later decided you wanted to."
DeVaney agrees. "While I think we should be accepting of farmers who want to work as long as they can, these persons also need to have contingency plans just in case they change their minds, encounter poor health or some other unexpected situation arises." she said.
DeVaney said even though the farmers were not looking forward to retirement, others in their family were.
"Most of the wives said they would like to travel or do more things," she said.
For those few who had planned for retirement, having an heir to take over the farm was an incentive, DeVaney said. Other contributing factors were the size of the farm and the physical effects of aging, which made it more difficult to work.
DeVaney suggests that one of the barriers to retirement planning may be the difficulty some families have in discussing their finances.
"It takes time to plan. It's not always easy to decide who's going to get what," she said.
Miller said that can be especially true if the farm itself is the vehicle through which a producer plans to finance their retirement.
"If dad needs to sell the farm to get the money to live on in retirement, and the son is expecting to inherit the property, then the father may be in a bind," he said.
Both DeVaney and Miller note that farming is an occupation where the intertwining of business and family is the norm. Miller said it's critical that all the "players" be involved in planning.
"Sometimes when I visit with farmers, their wives leave the room saying they are not interested in farm finances," he said. "Well, they should be. What if he dies where does that leave them?"
DeVaney said children and their spouses also need to be consulted on financial planning issues.
Miller said having a retirement plan can benefit the farm family, and other farm employees as well. "Providing a retirement fund can be a nice employee benefit," he said.
DeVaney suggests steps that can be taken to help farmers and their families improve their retirement planning:
Seek opportunities to gain retirement benefits through off-farm employment.
Start planning for retirement early, when you have more options.
Diversify investments to protect the funds that are put toward retirement.
Work on improving family communication and decision making.
DeVaney's study was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Endowment for Financial Education.
For more on retirement planning, DeVaney and Janet Bechman, Purdue family resource management specialist, developed a Web resource called "Planning for a Secure Retirement." The tutorial, which provides education and step-by-step advice on planning for retirement, can be accessed on the web.
Sources: Sharon DeVaney, (765) 494-8300; firstname.lastname@example.org
W. Alan Miller, (765) 494-4203; email@example.com
Writer: Beth Forbes, (765) 494-2722; firstname.lastname@example.org
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; email@example.com