Friday, January 3, 2014

Do you plan for the end?

I'm 50 years old this year, and while that's a bit younger than the average farmer age in the united states, it's been interesting for me to note that my span on this earth as a farmer has an end, and the end is in sight.

Here's what I'm saying:  I figure that I have about 20 more years to do whatever it is that I'm doing on my farm; and that the next 20 years will include a slow decline in the things that I can do physically.  I don't have a timeline, and there's no event that I'm looking at that makes it more apparent, I'm just pretty sure that I'll age just like everyone else does, and that aging will take predictable paths.  Part of nature; something that every person on this earth will face at some point.  

So I got a comment about the trees that sparked this posting.  

October Rose said : 
"Bruce, If you're thinking fruit enterprise for the long-haul, you might consider some standard-sized trees as well. They're a little more work and take a couple extra years to come into production, but they'll serve you well 30+ years vs. 10 or 12 "

I don't think that I'll be here in 30 years, and while I like the idea of things outliving me, most of my farm plans are more immediate; in the next 5 to 10 years.  Like buying dairy cows; their useful life will be shorter than my likely stay on the farm, so I can take them on without too much concern about not being able to care for them.  I think the same way about dogs and cats or pets of any sort:  If I was unlikely to be able to care for them for their entire lives, I wouldn't take them on, either.  

I've thought about building lifespans, too.  One engineer I worked with and I were talking one day about housing; and he talked about a house design he liked, (and eventually did build).  Doug mentioned that the house had a likely lifespan of 30 years.  "Why would you want to build a house that only lasts 30 years? "   "I'm not likely to be around after that, and it suits the purpose while I'm here.  

Doug was an unconventional thinker.  One day he commented that he was getting fat, and I made the usual noises that he wasn't, and asked him what he was going to do.  "Get bigger clothes", with a completely straight face and in all earnestness.  And he did.   

So my hoop barns are an offshoot of this sort of thinking - the fabric cover has a 15 to 20 year lifespan which suits my farming lifespan, too.  By the time they need a new cover I'll be moving on.  

For some farmers, the endgame is to hand the property over to their children or heirs, for others, the sale of the farm provides money for living and care at the end of life.  Sale of farm property for development is often seen as a tradegy (for the farm) but it's often done as a way for someone to be able to afford to retire.  Farms don't offer a 401k plan.  They don't have a defined benefit pension.  And they aren't insurance policies -- the only way that the farm can support the farmer at the end is by sale or loan.  And development is often the top sale dollar, at least in urban areas.  

When I was younger the end didn't see like it would come; it was so far out there that it wasn't worth considering.  But as the years go by and it gets harder and harder to make new old friends... it's visible.   Its coming.  


Steve said...

Interesting thoughts. I'm 57 and leaving the education field to enter farming with family on their land. I already see myself getting slower as I prune, dig and work.

My fallback though is that I have a retirement benefit from teaching. Otherwise this wouldn't seem like a wise decision.Maybe it isn't anyway you look at it.

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rrmontgomery said...

Thought about this quite a bit myself (being 51 going on 52)...the, "What to do with the remainder?" Always comes to mind when I consider doing something with the family farm (in trust) vs. well, anything else.