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Reasons to quit full-time ag careers

"Across Agweek Country, hundreds of farmers, ranchers and other agriculturalists are deciding whether this will be their last full-time year in ag. They still enjoy what they do, but they also realize it might be time to step back."

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There are numerous reasons that agriculturalists might realize they've reached the sunset of their ag career.
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Across Agweek Country, hundreds of farmers, ranchers and other agriculturalists are deciding whether this will be their last full-time year in ag. They still enjoy what they do, but they also realize it might be time to step back.

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Jonathan Knutson

I have personal experience with this. In the spring of 2019, at age 59, I enjoyed Agweek and ag journalism as much as ever, and I was finishing up my stint as president of North American Agriculturalist Journalists, the professional group for U.S. and Canadian journalists. Life was good. Then I was diagnosed with colon cancer and had surgery three days later. After a few months of recovery, I returned to work. Agweek management was extremely flexible and generous.

But medical problems persisted and grew to the point that in the summer of 2021 I had to retire. Agweek and ag journalism meant as much to me as ever, and I had many plans to pursue and goals to achieve. But my body told me unmistakably that full-time work was no longer viable. So I became a part-time columnist, a job I hope to continue as long as possible.

There are several reasons why agriculturalists retire. Here's a quick look at them:

Your body/doctor tell you to

It may be something as serious as cancer. Or it might be that daily aches and pains are growing or that you just don't have as much energy as you did at 25. Or it might be something in between. Most often, I think, a combination of declining energy and growing aches and pains — the dreary duo of old age — persuades agriculturalists to step down

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You might be able to ignore what your body tells you, but it can be difficult to argue successfully against expert medical advice. When the doc tells you it's time to quit, then it's time to quit.

Your family tells you to

There are always anecdotes of crusty 60- or 70-something farm wives telling their equally crusty 60- or 70-something husband that he will be retiring, willing to or not. The stories probably get exaggerated, but there's truth in many of them. Grown children often encourage their no-longer-young father to retire, too.

Grandkids factor in, as well. They don't actually say, "Oh, Grampa. Please quit farming so that you you can spend more time with us and buy us more toys and spoil us rotten." But you get the point.

Your ag banker tells you to

This is an unpleasant, unfortunate one. Your lender says you're going backward financially and that you won't receive financing for the next crop season. Well, farming is first and foremost a business and economics still reign supreme.

'65' tells you to

Age 65, of course, is when Medicare kicks in, obviously a key factor in many agriculturalists' timetable. Some agriculturalists wait until 66 or 67 the latter when full Social Security payments begin. Two years ago, I was sitting in an oncology center, awaiting radiation treatment, when another patient — a 70-something retired farmer — recognized me and began talking about ag. He said he'd kept farming until 67, and the positive financial boost really helped his retirement.

The wind-chill index tells you to

Decades ago, I ventured from my native North Dakota to earn a master's degree in Arizona. So I understand the pleasures of Sun Belt winters and why many upper Midwest agriculturalists decide to retire to southern climes for two to six months a year.

Like me, some of you will retire because you have to. Unlike me, some of you will retire because you want to. And unlike me, some of you will continue to work. Whatever you decide, enjoy your life, Make the most of it.

Jonathan Knutson is a former Agweek reporter. He grew up on a farm and spent his career covering agriculture. He can be reached at packerfanknutson@gmail.com.

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