Opinion: Retire? But farming becomes fun at 60

A problem with being a “rent-a-gob” columnist like me is that it requires you to give a simplified and singular version of your true point of view.

It’s a huge advantage if you only have simple and singular opinions, but my real thoughts are often much too contradictory to convey in one short, readable article.

In 2009 I was asked to write a piece for this magazine arguing that all farmers should retire at 60. I think it was connected to that year’s debate at the Oxford Farming Conference.

See also: Opinion – it was inevitable… bring on the Discovery 5

About the author

Matthew Naylor
Farmers Weekly Opinion writer
Matt Naylor is managing director of Naylor Flowers, growing 300ha of cut flowers in Lincolnshire for supermarkets. He is a director of Concordia, a charity that operates the Seasonal Worker Scheme, and was one of the founders of Agrespect, an initiative to drive equality, diversity and inclusion in agriculture.
Read more articles by Matthew Naylor

I didn’t have any problem making that point then, I was in my mid-30s and retirement seemed a long way off. My father, by coincidence, was 60 in 2009 and he wasn’t persuaded by my argument at all.

Reading that article again, as a 50-year-old, I see I argued that “all farmers of my generation should aim to be financially independent of their business by the age of 60”.

So how true have I been to my own advice? I certainly still believe that retiring at 60 is a fantastic aspiration, but am I likely to actually do it?

Our business is still growing at 20% a year and that hasn’t been compatible with building up my own personal wealth.

Supermarkets have this annoying habit of wanting value for money and can’t be persuaded to let me make huge profits for a few years so that I can top up my pension pot.

Assets, not pensions

Like a lot of farmers, I sit with most of my wealth tied up in company assets rather than pensions.

We do at least have a range of different income streams now but, since the rise in interest rates after Trussageddon, accelerating our debt repayments has become a more urgent priority.

Without the catastrophic tenure of her and Kwasi Kwarteng, I should now have been able to live on the proceeds from our commercial property rather than from the farm.

As it is, I need a few more years to have a wholly independent income.

The main thrust of my argument in 2009 was that farmers need to stand aside to make opportunities for young people in the industry. In this area, I’m doing better.

I have a great team of people working around me and things tick along as nicely when I’m not there as when I am. Some people might argue they tick along better.

Either way, it frees me up to focus on longer-term plans without getting bogged down in the endless cycle of day-to-day challenges.

I can support everyone with a clear head when they need help or advice with a decision.

The irony is that I can now see that 60 is the age when farming actually becomes fun. You have a good idea of what you are doing and are better at avoiding mistakes.

You have more financial security and can achieve big goals, such as land purchases.

The best thing about being 60 is that you are surrounded by younger, brighter people who can help to share your workload to realise their own ambitions.

Having worked hard for these things for a whole lifetime, I can’t imagine it would be easy to swap them for a life of golf, daytime television or cutting your lawn.

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