Farming author plans new chapter for retirement
While the traditional approach to farmers’ retirement has been to plough on, a growing number are planning a different kind of future, where they move off the family farm and pursue other interests.
Dairy farmer and author of farming memoir, ‘Till The Cows Come Home’, Lorna Sixsmith and her husband Brian James are among them.
“Like most farmers, we’re very aware that we need to be paying into a private pension. Some years we manage it, some years we don’t even though there are tax advantages if we do manage to do so.
“With only about 15 years left – give or take – until retirement, it’s something we need to be focusing on,” said Lorna, who farms at Crettyard, Co. Laois.
“It’s very difficult to invest in something on a farm that will deliver a return at pension age. Many people may purchase an investment property, for example; but, if farmers are investing in milking parlours and cubicle sheds and new machinery and a 10ac field that comes up beside them, those assets are passed on to the next generation with the farm,” she said.
The days of a younger couple being able to supplement the older couple’s pension are disappearing as returns from farming diminish; yet, many older people require financial help – be it with making their health insurance payments, keeping a car or similar expenses.
“Succession experts often advise the retiring couple to hold onto some land so they retain some income and independence; personally, I would prefer to be financially independent at retirement and be able to hand over the whole farm, should we have a child wishing to farm.
“If farming incomes are going to diminish further, a farm may not be financially viable if parents still have a claim to part of it,” said Lorna.
Traditionally, farmers have stayed living on the farm after retirement, she acknowledged.
“Indeed, retirement tends to be a gradual process, the farmer doing less and the successor doing more. The older couple often shared their home with a son and his wife, and their children – living in harmony or not, until the older couple died. Now, the younger couple usually build a new house nearby.
“In our situation, we had been living abroad for many years so having enjoyed independence and anonymity; we didn’t move in with my parents when we returned to farming.
“Initially we were going to build a house for ourselves, but the problem was trying to find a suitable site that would be close enough to the farmyard. Yet having two houses close to the yard was going to devalue the second one if it could never be sold independently from the farm.
“We decided, therefore, to build a bungalow for my parents, closer to the road, and we moved into the farmhouse. It has worked out well.
“My father was able to help out as and when he wanted to do so and we were close to the farmyard which made life easier, particularly at calving time,” Lorna said.
The couple don’t want to stay living on the farm after retirement, for a number of reasons.
“We’ll have been farming for over 30 years and although we love it, we’d appreciate a change of scenery. In many ways, I’d love to move to a cottage by the sea, but we’ll see,” she said.
“If one of our children decides to farm, it would be nice to be close enough to help out occasionally, but we’d both prefer to try new things in retirement and do things that we don’t always have time for as farming can be so busy.
“If neither child wants to farm, then it is likely we would be leasing out the farm. Retirement won’t be a gradual process then but more of a ‘farming today, retirement tomorrow’, so we will need lots of new interests to keep us entertained such as a large garden,” Lorna said.
“Although our pension needs serious attention, and we’re aware of that, we also wanted to ensure that we have somewhere to live once we retire. I don’t want to have to hand over the farmhouse yet and expect the inheriting child to take out a mortgage for whatever property we live in.
“Therefore, we purchased some land with a derelict stone farmhouse about 15 years ago, and we renovated the farmhouse,” said Lorna, who was an interior designer in a previous career.
“It is currently rented out on a long-term let and, while the rental income doesn’t quite cover the mortgage, it is going to provide us with a home to live in at retirement or a home to sell so we can buy elsewhere. It means that the farm won’t have to fund our home post-retirement.”
Before Lorna returned to farming, she and her husband purchased a house every two years, renovating it and then moving again.
“I always had itchy feet and now that I can’t move house, I do tend to move furniture around a lot.
“I’d actually love to rent for a while when we retire, taking cottages for two months at a time at off-peak times of the year in places like Kerry; Donegal; Yorkshire; Cumbria; Cornwall; Norfolk; Brittany; Bavaria, and anywhere else that piques my interest,” said Lorna.
“I think the beauty of retirement is doing something different. One of my dad’s cousins worked in London as a civil servant and now has a small farm in Staffordshire where he is loving being a beef farmer.
“We love farming and will be giving it our all for the next 15 years or so, continually striving for improving the herd as well as adding new facilities; for example, a new milking parlour is on the list.
However, when it comes to retiring, we’ll be hanging up our wellies and reaching for our gardening gloves, our travel books and hopefully I’ll still be writing books too; although maybe in a different genre.
“Many people like to stay living in the same community which is understandable, especially as they get older. With the increasing use of online technology, people are getting to know others all over the world so it’s much easier to get to know a few people before moving to a new area.
“I see retirement as a whole new chapter in life; a chance to do and try different things.”