Bob Hawthorn, 84, has been farming for nearly 60 years with no plans to retire soon.
“[Neighbors] say, ‘When are you gonna quit?’ I think I’ll tell ‘em I won’t quit farming till all hell freezes over,” Hawthorn tells NET News.
Nearly 5 percent of people in the U.S. workforce are past retirement age, and the latest Agriculture Census reports 25 percent of active farmers are 65 years old or older.
Mike Duffy, an agricultural economist at Iowa State University, says many farmers continue working past retirement because modern machinery makes work less strenuous. The current spike in grain prices provides a monetary incentive for farmers to keep producing.
But more importantly, he explains, “Farmers are farmers. And that’s who they identify themselves as. They’ll leave horizontal.”
Hawthorn agrees. “I’d be bored not having anything to do. I’ve also noticed that farmers, when they retire, buy a house in town and die of a heart attack about in the next year. It seems like farmers have to keep going or they just fade away.”
Unfortunately, this mentality has made it difficult for young farmers to enter the fields. Without plans to retire, many farmers are unprepared to transition their farms to the next generation of farmers. In fact, studies show that over one half of older farmers don’t have a will or estate plan.
“We’re not short of young people who want to farm,” Duffy clarifies. “We’re short of old people who want to move over.”