A now-grown farm kid has eyes that light up when he talks of “how great is it to be out there on the tractor.” At this time of year, the field equipment is tuned and ready to go. Some young “wannabee” farmers are not going to be occupying the seats, they will be toiling at their off-farm jobs.
There is a lot more to farming than riding the tractor, but I think that there is a deep reason why so many farm men don’t want to let go of that steering wheel…ever.
I tell anxious farmers in my seminars that “farmers never retire, they just learn to re-invent themselves in new roles.” The audience breathes a sigh of relief, and decides I am “okay to listen to.” This winter, an 83 year old active farmer was happy to be part of the audience, and has no plans to stop seeding.
As I reflect on the comments from young farm kids who are now trying to decide if they can be the next generation on the farm, I am struck by their passion to be their own boss, raise a family on the fields and carry a huge burden of debt. If riding the tractor is not going to happen for you anymore as they take over, what joy will you find in other pursuits? You don’t like that question do you?
Sometimes what we think we want can be arrived at with a different roadmap or plan.
Maybe it is the silence and solitude that the young man is craving, he’s close to burnout working 100 hour weeks at two jobs, and trying to stay happily married. Can he work on a part-time basis with folks who own the tractors? Can he let go of his passion for the steering wheel and focus on the things that provide a more secure cash flow? Is his emotional well-being totally dependent on what he does for a living or is it more about who he is as a person, his character?
This spring may be a tough one if you think it’s going to be your last one on the field. It’s hard to let go of control and the smell of the fresh earth accepting new seed. If you are going to let go, what are you going to move towards? Can you become the hired man again?
This season is hard for the spouses who are weary with off-farm work, yet still dream of expansion or getting started on that farming plan that’s been mulling around at the office. Do you know how much financial clout you carry in terms of servicing debt? Do you have a clear picture of your family living costs and the income stream you need to draw from your farm and or workplace? Do you know if your parents or grand-parents are willing to gift you some equity or give you a gift that will give you a hand-up (not a handout)? Do you think your spouse shares the same passion as you for agriculture as an entrepreneur and educated risk-taker? Do you have the emotional smarts to set boundaries so that you don’t burn out with overwork or depression?
Silence and solitude on a tractor may be a tonic for some who look forward to the reflecting and thinking time as they crisscross the fields. Are there other ways for you to find renewal… going out to fish, hunt or walk the bush trails?
Silence of a partner who refuses to share his intent or thoughts is a killer of the farm marriage relationship. I am distressed by the calls from farm women who ask me not to call back, but to quietly email them. How can I fully communicate with a women who feels threatened by having her own opinion which is not highly valued in the farm house? What family secrets are being kept as a threat to stifling her need for resources to help her family?
The domestic violence poster in the women’s washroom at a hotel workshop I attended had tabs for phone numbers. Only one tab was left. That tells me that 10 or more women took the phone numbers to ask for help.
Keep a listening ear out this spring for women and men who are suffering from a bad kind of silence –the kind that keeps them fearful of asking for help to make the communication and conflict resolution healthier on their farm team. Communicate with them on their terms, and check out local resources that they can easily access.
We all have choices, and sometimes the tough choices scare us, but taking action is possible with a positive mindset. Have a “I can do this” attitude to ask for help. Then surround yourself with a healthy emotional support group.
Seeding time is stressful when there have been years of crop failure before, lower prices at the elevator, the uncertainty of the future markets or fear of making a seeding choice mistake. The season becomes unbearable when the stress of family conflict or secret-keeping is added on to the time pressures of getting the crop in.
Pay attention to the silence.
Get energy from having a quiet time in your tractor, truck or kitchen to reflect on what you want your life on the farm to look like. Unplug the electronics for a while so that you can really listen and interpret your thoughts.
Offer encouragement and support to those around you who are unusually silent when you ask them how they are really doing.
Farmers are a mere 2% of the Canadian population. We have a unique culture in agriculture, and we need to recognize how we can cultivate hope in the present moment. We want to continue to enjoy the harvest of opportunity in this country, and be thankful that no matter how tough the season may be, we can always be rich in relationship.
Elaine Froese is a member of the Canadian Association of Farm Advisors (www.cafanet.com).Her husband is a certified seed grower. They farm near Boissevain, Man. Call Elaine, a Certified Hudson Institute Coach for phone coaching if you are looking for options beyond driving the tractor. 1-866-848-8311.