Actively Farming As We Grow Older: When Will Someday Come Along?

IMG_0261     It seems like such a long time ago that I graduated from high school.  It doesn’t seem so long ago that I graduated from the University of Guelph a couple times.  However, the fact is it was quite some time ago.  Pierre Trudeau was Prime Minister of Canada.  I sprayed atrazine on my corn.  I cultivated soybeans almost all summer.  When I think about those days, it was eons ago.

So what does that mean?  This is not a column about those wonderful days of yore.  No, this is a column about getting old and how that mixes in to a fairly large farm operation in southwestern Ontario.  I farm by myself and that is particularly challenging, especially as I grow older.  Things don’t particularly work like they once did within my personal power plant.  It’s such a good thing I can replace much of that with modern technology.

The translation to that is I have aches and pains like I never did when I was younger.  My eyes don’t quite work like they did when I was younger.  I got to be about 47 years old and all heck broke loose with my eyesight.  Suddenly, I needed reading glasses and shortly after that I needed glasses to see almost anything. I found it particularly annoying on the farm because when I wanted to fix something I couldn’t see it properly.  So now when I need to fix something glasses are always a part of that equation.  When they fog up or fill with sweat it makes those fixing jobs so much tougher.  It’s all part of growing older on the farm.

Aging as hell.  That is not my quote; it came from my late father who never minced words when it came to the aging process.  He farmed up until his 80th year and in those later years he became much more safety conscious. I think that he knew his personal limitations were growing greater and safety became an even bigger issue.  I think he knew that he didn’t necessarily trust himself as much as his younger days so farm safety became much more important to him.  As I’ve grown older I try to remember that constantly.  I farm alone so it makes it much more important to be safe.

It’s hard to describe exactly what it is like to grow older on the farm to younger people.  Last year I was speaking on grain prices and farmland trends to an audience in central Ontario.  I told them about paying 20% interest rates and low prices and it was like their eyes glazed over.  After my presentation I had two young people come up to me and asked what it was like back in those days?  I was somewhat incredulous with the query.  It was obvious they were looking at me as somewhat of a relic.  The point is the aging process creeps up on you; it is almost insidious in nature.  The age of 30 was a speed bump, passing the age of 40 was a bit of a right of passage, but passing 50 makes you really think.  How long do I want to farm and if I make that choice how can I make it easier?  Then of course the question is how long should I farm?

In other words, how long will I be healthy enough to farm?  Will I just continue to be young and tough forever or will physical limitations come along to limit my farming career or even slam the door on it?   Can I remain safe on the farm even as I grow old?   Will I get to write the end of the story?

For those of you who are starting farming try to put yourself in my shoes.  Time goes by, everyday and someday is always that day in the future.  However, then you wake up and it’s not Tuesday or Wednesday but it is someday.  After all that time someday has finally come along.

Last Monday my 24-year-old nephew passed away.  He passed away very quickly in only a few days.  He felt a little bit of pain at work, went to the emergency ward in a London Ontario hospital and died 3 days later from complications of pancreatitis.  He had the whole world in front of him, just starting out.  It was all snatched away, way before his time.

So as I grow older I measure things like that.  Being young and tough on the farm is a great asset, but it doesn’t last forever.  Aging in agriculture is the great equalizer.  There comes a time when you have to have a talk with yourself.  Has someday finally come?  The road ahead doesn’t necessarily get easier, but usually much more complicated.