For farmers, retiring can mean more than just losing their home according to research conducted by La Trobe University’s Rural Health School.
PhD student Heather Downey has been researching the concept of retirement for farmers, working with six Australian farming couples.
“Prior to becoming a researcher, I worked extensively as a social worker with farming families during the drought,” Ms Downey said.
“Everybody I met was very old and starting to think about retirement.
“Retirement in a farming context has family implications.”
Ms Downey said for farming men in particular, retirement has always been a difficult concept to grasp.
“Farms are not just places of production but homes and for farming men usually, they have those generational links,” she said.
“It might be that grandma is buried on the property next door.
“Those families have been there a long time and there is a sense of status and a sense of identity.
“But most women in my study had married into farming and so for them, retirement was just like any employed person would see it.”
Of the couples involved in the study two couples, who had been concerned about depressed markets for farm sales, had sold and for one of those couples, negotiations resulted in being able to stay on the home block.
“Interestingly the couple who remained on the home block are finding changes occurring on their farmland unexpectedly challenging, while the other couple who had moved were enjoying retirement and particularly their grandchildren,” Ms Downey said.
For other couples involved in the study, the future remained in question.
Some had postponed retirement because they did not want to pass on a debt, while others had different ideas about where they wanted to live and opted to stay put.
“Those couples thinking about staying on the farm should think about the practicalities such as transport, accessing services and the physicality of farming as they age,” she said.
Ms Downey’s advice to farming couples considering retirement included:
- Talking to family and each other.
- Seeking support from financial and succession planners and other professionals such as social workers, who may open up space for difficult conversations.
- Talking to the younger generations, and being clear about the timing of transfer of farm decision-making, financial management and ownership.