A few years ago, one of my cousins, who was also my neighbour, succumbed unexpectedly and very rapidly to cancer. Because he was a bachelor, the task of organizing his affairs fell to another cousin and me. Winding down a farm that had been in the family for generations was no easy task. Despite some help from other family members and some long-time friends and neighbours of his, it took weeks of work to clean out buildings, find everything, organize the machinery—in several cases make repairs—and have it all lined up and ready for an auction sale on time.
Aside from all that, there were cattle that had to be rounded up and sold along with the farm itself.
This year—somewhat unexpectedly—we find ourselves doing exactly the same thing on our own farm. Fortunately, the sale of our place wasn’t due to health reasons. It was just the natural flow of things. Nobody can farm forever, and when the opportunity to sell to a neighbour arose, we decided to take advantage of it and move on.
A few people have suggested that rather than being entitled to call ourselves farmers in the last few years we’ve been living a life more like that of country Squires, because we sold most of our land a few years ago. What’s left has been rented out. All our cattle are long since gone and we haven’t been doing much more than living on the place. But even at that, there is a lot to do to move off what was once a working farm.
Add in the complication that there were several vehicle restoration projects either underway or waiting their turn in the workshop, and the task of moving gets even more complicated. There’s just no way all of that would fit on a city lot. So homes had to be found for most of the projects with people who could see them through to completion.
There are some emotions that need to be packed up as well; especially when a farm has been in the family for most of the time since it was settled in 1884 gets sold. But you have to be practical, and one way or another a new owner will eventually need to take over.
If I were just making a cold, calculated real estate sale, I’d be focused entirely on where I could get the best dollar. Selling a farm, though, seems to involve more than that. Whether you build up a farm from scratch or just take it over as a working operation, there’s a lot of sweat and pride that goes into it over the years.
One of the great things about selling out before there’s a need to quickly disperse an estate—like we had to do with my cousin’s farm—is the opportunity to be picky about who gests to be the next owner. It’s great to find one that will carry on where we left off and take care of what we built up.
So, as the boxes pile up ready for loading and the workshop gets cleaned out, things are about to change for us. Because the average age of Canadian farmers continues to climb, it’s a reality many in the industry will soon have to face. For those, like us, who can’t just pass it on to another family member, selling to a neighbour or complete stranger will be the reality.
I know many farmers feel that same strong emotional attachment to the land that we do, and they find it hard to imagine ever selling out. But selling at a time when everyone is healthy and able to move on to a new phase in life is far better than counting on family and friends to come in and take over the job.
I’ve now done it both ways, and I can tell you that for a fact.