By Shaun Haney

Agriculture has some untouchable topics that we are just not supposed to talk about.  One of them is dealing with aging farm workers.  On the farm we are taught to respect our elders but in some cases in agriculture we take this to high levels of absurdity.   Recently, in northern Alberta a man that was over the age of 80 was hung up in a combine accident and was very fortunate to not be killed.  Reading about this terrible accident in the Globe and Mail sparked my thinking process around the topic of elderly farm workers.  To put it simply, “should their be limits on the age of farm workers?”

Ask yourself these questions:

Why do we look up to 85 year olds that still drive combine and not wheel chairs?

Would we allow an 85 year old to work on a oil drilling rig or on a logging crew?

Are 85 year old farm workers safer or more dangerous than 15 year old farm workers?

In terms of farm safety why do we seem to care more about the young people than the elderly?

Before I get blasted with hate mail from those of you that love the fact your grandpa drives combine lets consider the absurdity of some of this.  Really think about the questions above and answer them honestly.  I am not suggesting that elderly people should not be involved in the family farm seeding or harvest but roles can change as our skills and abilities do.

When I look at my own family’s situation I remember my grandfather thinking it was a good idea at the age of 83 to drive a tandem truck full of seed grain to Edmonton.  We didn’t let him take the drive that day and like you would expect he felt like he was under appreciated and was being pushed out of the business.  I am sure that this a common situation on many farms except many of us don’t talk about it.  See I don’t believe that our grandparents need to be pushed out but I do think that it is our responsibility to make sure that their safety and those working around them is secured and maintained.

These are not fun conversations to have because it usually does involve some hurt feelings.  I have heard from several people who say, “He would rather be dead than be told he cannot drive combine.”  This makes no sense to me at all and is a great example of how we give agriculture a free pass.  This doesn’t happen in other industries that involve physical labor and the running of machinery.  As I mention above, would it be reasonable to let an 85 year old work on drilling rig because telling him can’t might kill him?

Be honest with yourself and admit that grandpa running combine or other farm machinery at the tender age of 85 is not really a great idea.  His reaction times are slower, he doesn’t understand the technology in the cab, and probably would be better suited ensuring grain samples are getting collected and graded by the elevator.   Whatever you do in these situations hate will be involved.  Either Grandpa is going to hate you for preventing him from driving machinery or you are going to hate yourself for not acting sooner and preventing a terrible accident.

Let the hate mail begin……or just leave your thoughts in the comment box below.

17 thoughts on “Should There Be An Age Limit on Farm Workers?

  1. I think you are an idiot. What is wrong with people that want the older generations to still participate on the farm. Stop being so insensitive. Its so typical of todays younger generation to not appreciate the help of older generations. Young people think they have all the answers.

  2. I don’t think he’s being insensitive, I think he’s being realistic and tackling a tough issue. By simply telling him he’s being an idiot, I don’t tink you are really putting any thought into the issue at hand.

  3. Difficult issue. I guess you can’t put an age limit on an owner/operator, but likely need to consider the safety/liability implications of hiring an older worker and we’re not talking about 60 somethings, we are talking about people in their 80’s who if working in other careers would be forced into retirement for some of those same reasons. Likely would at least need to consider the types of responsibilities they would have at the older AND younger ages.

    On the up side it shows the dedication and love of work that farm workers have versus people in other industries…I for one would like to retire at 55 if it were at all possible!

  4. In genearl I agree with your comments. Keep in mind however that not all 85 year olds are the same. My grandfather, at the age of 83, is in better shape, physically and probably mentally, then I am!

  5. I think even more important than having an age limit is letting your own kids run the farm! Too many times you see the dad want to hold on to farm and adult kids still are under the rule of their dads who want a hand in everything – maybe after 65 it’s time to enjoy retirement and let the kids take over! Any study will tell you the older you get the slower your response time is -that’s not being insensitive -that’s the reality we all will face.

  6. What you fail to remember is that these elderly people are our connection to the past. They’ve lived through the depression, grew in the 70’s and were crushed in the 80’s. They have a lot to teach the people of this generation.

  7. Good discussion on a tough topic – congrats for opening up the debate.

    My thought: it is a case by case situation. Each individual and each operation are differnet – so we cannot make a blanket statment that will be right for everyone.

    I do beleive that there are times when older people should stop doing some of the jobs around the farm. Ideally this happens naturally, but as you mentioend above, sometimes situations have to be confronted and hurt feelings can occur.

    I agree wtih Ronnie’s comment that the older gneration has valueable information and can teach us a lot…but I feel that there comes a time when you need to stop climbing up the side of the bin or trying to fix the combine by yourself in the middle of the field – and leave it someone younger.

    Similarly, I see too many young people (kids and early teens) put in situations that require more experience and more training on the dangers / risks that are present in the job they are doing.

  8. Like many difficult topics there are excellent points on both sides of this debate. I agree that a case by case basis is the proper way to look at this issue. Each individual is in different shape mentally and physically at different points of their lives. We had a local farmer that continued to operate equipment up until the year of his passing at 93 years of age! It was his choice, his equipment, his land. A very extreme case and in no way indicative of most 93 year old individuals capabilities. He operated a combine for a very short period each day under direct supervision.

    My belief is that in many cases the best solution may be the art of compromise. Instead of running a equipment the individual can become the resident gofor; go for parts, go for fuel, help move vehicles when switching fields. Or instead of running a piece of equipment such as combine that has an increased risk of accident due to multiple pieces of equipment in the same field ie: grain truck, grain carts, other combines etc, why not the heavy harrows? This is a compromise I have seen work in many farming operations. Still dependent upon the operators physical/mental capabilities of course. The individual still can contribute to the farm operation. Due to environmental conditions harrowing is generally a short day anyways and there is less factors to pay attention to.

    Last but not least I think another topic for another day is: Who is replacing our more senior farm workers? Latley I have seen the 75 year old grandpa being replaced with a 14- 16 year old texting combine operator. Are we trading one risk for another?

  9. I just helped my 88 year old Father in law bring in the harvest – in most cases he can out work, out run and out smart myself – I am 58 – He drove combine and I drove the truck – when it came time to check the bins – he climbed up the bin and closed the doors when it looked like rain – I have not farmed since I was a kid – but – I learned so much that weekend of helping him I considered a privilege to work with him. I know that he is thinking about retiring, but we are talking about a guy that bought a motorcycle at 80 – Ask yourself how old are you? Some would say that you are not old enough??

  10. Ronnie calling someone an “idiot” is a lousy way to get your comments to be taken seriously. And young people may think they have all the answers but caustic old coots just know they have!

  11. While it is not pleasant to confront somewhat about their capabilities with a particular task or piece of machinery, nonetheless the cat needs to be belled. In the interests of safety and prevention of accidents to individuals and those around them, there has been some good extension efforts made to help decide when young people are old enough to do certain jobs. Some assessment tools and guidelines would help with older persons situations as well. No one is invincible. To huff and puff about no body going to tell me yaddah, yaddah, is not realistic. Some guidelines and tools could help individuals make their own judgement and give them a chance to save their own pride and bow out with dignity.

  12. Again more rules its a free country it should be a family decsion not goverment or city folk deciding for us.There are more farm accidents with younger people.In our community more people have dead in highway crashes than farm accident.When will we ban the car to save lives.
    If you do gooders want something to discuss tackle that one.Next anyone running farm machinery should be drug tested or have specail license to operate it will never end.

  13. My comment is not from the farming industry, but life in general. My grandma has always travelled in a motorhome since she retired at 65. She is now 94 and would still drive her motorhome or car, BUT… this statement several years ago sent off alarms with my mom and uncle, “I can still drive just fine. I just can’t read the signs. But, I can see to drive without a problem!” And, then she about got swept away in a flooded arroyo (sp?), because she couldn’t get stopped fast enough when she realized there was water in it. In all of the years this woman has been driving, she has NEVER gotten a ticket or been in an accident. It was a very difficult situation for her children to confront her with, until she sneaked off in the car and could have easily drown in a torrent of water. It’s been 2 years since she’s driven a car now. It was a wake up call for her, and I think this article is a WONDERFUL wake up call for the farming industry. Our elderly have served their years in hard, dangerous labor, and we need to alter their duties to something less dangerous for themselves and others. Thankyou for the article!!!

  14. I have recently been working with my own father to ease up and recognize his own weakness. He is now 76 and we have reduced him to “resident gofer” and transfer of vehicles. He does the odd bit of baling in the same field but no demanding long hours. I say this in one sentence but after 5 years of finger pointing, tears, cursing and family arguments I have been able to get HIM to recognize his shortcomings due to health and age. I agree with many of the othe comments –it is not easy, but after repairing machines and fences due bad judgement you have to be realistic. Sooner or later someone will get hurt–that is not worth it. The key is to trasition the responsibilities–not always easy but must be done for safety sake.

  15. Thank God this is an issue Government can not get involved in.
    and create an other layer of bureaucrats

    Long live the freedom of the farmer

    1. John,
      If farmers don’t show better judgement the government will eventually get involved. I don’t want the government to get involved as much as you but we need to manage the current situation better. To assume that the farmer has ultimate freedom from the interference of government on worker safety is a bit naive.

  16. I am 76 and enjoy tractors &combines with a/c power steering power shift power brakes and G P S. But will get out of the combine if i cant run at full speed and i am leaving grain.Compared to the 1950s it is more of a holiday then playing golf .We have younger folks for repairs and i am not in a hurry to fill the seed drill by hand but love working the soil no dust ,rain ,cold ,wind , or hot sun in the cab.

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