Aging is a fact of life. In farming, it is also a fact of the industry.
In 2017, farm producers in the United States were, on average, 57.5 years old according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Census of Agriculture. This is older than the average age of 56.3 that the census recorded in 2012.
The same is true in Maine. Even with the growth in numbers of young farmers, the average age of Maine farmers still increased according to that same census, from 55.1 years old in 2012 to 56.5 years old in 2017.
Unlike other occupations, though, aging farmers may not end their careers with retirement.
“Our whole population is aging, but farmers are not the kind of people who retire,” said Richard Brzozowski, project director for Maine AgrAbility, a non-profit collaboration with the University of Maine Cooperative extension that assists people working on farms, fisheries and forestry careers while aging or managing chronic illness or disability.
Just because you are getting older doesn’t mean your farm career has to end. However, there are certain inevitable changes that are better to address head-on for the sake of health, safety and — ultimately — the wellbeing and longevity of your business. Here are a few steps aging farmers can take right away to help manage the transition into this next stage of life.
Meet with your family
Farming is often a family enterprise. Scheduling a family meeting to discuss any changes in your role on the farm will keep loved ones — and business partners — informed and engaged.
“Have the key members of the family meet together and talk about the situation,” Brzozowski said. “It’s sort of like a family decision of who’s doing what. A family meeting might be the best thing to start with because you start the conversation.”
After that first meeting, plan to check in on a regular basis — such as daily check-ins in the morning or weekly meetings to discuss the goals for the week — to help encourage accountability as it relates to your safety.
On the flip side, family members discussing the changes in operations should be considerate when they approach the topic.
“You have to be tactful when approaching people who are older so they can still have a role to play,” Brzozowski said.
Brzozowski suggested opening the conversation like this: “We care about you and we want to include you in the farm, but there are things that are too dangerous for you to keep doing. Let’s make some changes so you’re around for a long time.”
Honestly evaluate — and abide by — your physical limits
As you age, health and safety should be your priorities. Knowing your physical limits and respecting them is essential to avoiding injuries around the farm. Set up resting stations around the farm with seats and benches and use them to pace yourself. Take breaks when you’re tired, and accept that the length of your workday should decrease as you get older.
Brzozowski said knowing your physical limits is especially important for lifting tasks. Refrain from lifting heavy objects. Simple machines like levers, pulleys, inclined planes, wheels and axles can help you complete applicable tasks without overexerting.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help from others in accomplishing physical tasks or just accompanying you on the job to ensure you have back up. This is also a great opportunity to teach the next generation what you know about farming.
Also, your reaction time might be declining, so don’t put yourself in dangerous situations, like handling animals that are larger than yourself. Consider carrying a cane for support or protection.