Is Canada Prepared for Massive Amounts of Farmer Retirements?


Christie Young is the Executive Director of FarmSmart and this week she has created some stir within the Canadian Agriculture industry by saying that our industry is not prepared for the coming mass farmer retirements.  What has really caused the stir is her statement that the government has some sort of responsibility to ensure we prepare ourselves.  Young believes that Canadian government needs to create opportunities for new farmers to enter the industry and ensure our domestic food supply is maintained.  Young made it very clear that she believes the government is doing nothing to encourage people to enter the profession. 

According to Young, 75% of farmers will retire in the next ten years. This number is very staggering but is it something that should scare us or that the government needs to do something about? According to Young 60% of the new retirees plan on passing on the farm to no one.

Should there be a mandatory age of retirement for farmers

The government is doing many things to encourage young people to become farmers.  For example, Farm Credit Canada is a crown corporation that focuses strictly in the area of agriculture.  Their mandate includes creating loan opportunities for farm transitions, farm expansions and farm startups.

The reality of consolidation is prevalent in most industries and farming is no different.  The economics of agriculture present the same reasons for consolidation.  Its is crititical to make sure that returning children or farm employees interested in ownership understand the options available to them for purchasing farm assets if that is what they desire.

The level of the government’s needed involvement in enticing more farmers to enter the industry depends on your objectives.  What is important to Canadian agriculture?  Ask yourself:

  • Is the number of farmers more important than individual farm profitability?
  • In the current system preventing new farmers from entering the industry or is it really the amount of gross dollars needed to buy assets?
  • Is there concern that there will be no one to farm the land after the current farmers retire?
  • Are farmers themselves doing enough to encourage family members or employees to enter the farm business?
  • Should we be looking at the coming concentration of farm land ownership different than the amount of farmers?

I believe that farm owners continued inability to succeed at farm succession transfer is one of the reasons the 60% number is real.  For example,  a 75 year old farmer being unwilling to begin farm ownership transfer to his 50 year old son.  Or what about a 40 year old son not even having signing authority on the farm checking account because his 65 year old mom wants to watch what he spends even though he does all the work?

I also believe that the issue of consolidating farm ownership is different that the number of people willing to farm.  Farm ownership should not define you as a farmer.  I know of several successful farm and livestock operations that own very little land and capital assets and yet they are incredibly financially successful.  Our definition of the “farmer” is evolving.  One of the reasons for this is that land is very expensive and unless it is heavily subsidized there is no government program to allow new entrants.  Who says that you have to own land to farm?  Many of the 70% that are retiring have no plans to sell the land due to its strong value.  They intend to rent out the land to younger farmers which in a way is win win for all parties involved.  The farm stays in the name of the family and is still being farmed by someone that will take care of it like it’s their own.

The current crop of young farmers looks at the opportunity of agriculture differently than their parents.  They seem to be less tied to the land and more tied to the idea of a opportunistic farm business.  A specific piece of land or the amount of land under ownership does not define them.  What defines them is running a successful business which is no different than any other young small business owner in any other industry.

Christie Young has reasons to be concerned about coming farm retirements.  What is much more unclear is what the governments role is to fix it.  As I have mentioned above, there are many young farmers that look at the coming farm retirements as a massive opportunity to expand their farming operation in the future.

Whats your opinion, please write your comments below.

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