Too young to retire

  • 4.5 min read

Photos courtesy of Hinz and Grueter families

For Shaun and Ellen Grueter, their ultimate goals are clear. They want to become full-time farmers, move from the small city of Humboldt, Sask., to the country, and raise a family on the farm. Realizing their dreams isn’t easy.

“We’d like to have a plan in place and have some certainty and timelines,” Ellen says. However, the path forward for the young couple is a work in progress.

Both currently have full time jobs – Shaun as a heavy duty mechanic for a farm equipment dealership in Humboldt, and Ellen as communications manager for SaskCanola, a job that requires frequent one-hour commutes into Saskatoon.

With any bit of time he can spare from his job, Shaun has been farming with Ellen’s dad George Hinz, and it’s been a mutually beneficial relationship. George has an agriculture degree majoring in soil science and enjoys the agronomic and business management side of the business. He’s pleased to be working with a son-in-law whose strength is mechanics.

“Shaun is a real go-getter,” George notes. “Between his job and the farm, he works a lot of long hours.”

Farm transfer not imminent

Ellen and Shaun Grueter, George and Caroline Hinz

To an outside observer, there would seem to be a logical way for Shaun and Ellen to fulfil their dream: they could just take over the farm from Ellen’s dad and mom. However, the timing isn’t right.

George is only 53, just 20 years older than Shaun. George farmed through many tough years, but most of the last decade has been good in the grain industry. In 2017, the cropping mix included yellow peas, maple peas, malting barley, canola, feed wheat and hard red wheat. Both yields and quality were excellent. George doesn’t want to retire any time soon.

The situation is quite different from when George took over the farm from his dad in the late ’80s. In that case, the age gap was 40 years, George’s dad wanted to retire and none of George’s older brothers wanted to farm.

“My brothers grew up doing lots of hard physical labour on the farm and weren’t interested in coming back,” George says.

Asked to project what the farm situation might look like in 10 or 15 years, George can see Shaun and Ellen taking over, but that timeline seems like an eternity for the upcoming generation.

Building their farming future

Undaunted, Shaun and Ellen continue to work towards their dream. In exchange for the labour he provides, Shaun uses George’s equipment to farm a number of rented parcels. Shaun and Ellen have also purchased a few pieces of their own equipment.

“I’d love to have my own heated shop where I could fix our own equipment as well as do some work on the side for other farmers,” Shaun says.

However, they don’t own any land for a house or shop, and they haven’t benefited from the equity bump generated by rising land values. They are still some distance away from generating sufficient farm income to give up their full-time jobs.

Last year saw a major expansion in rented land with George and Shaun moving up to 2800 cropped acres, but that isn’t large by Saskatchewan standards – particularly when two families are involved.

Plus, George and his wife Caroline have three other daughters to consider. Two have careers, and one is finishing Grade 12 with a strong interest in animal agriculture. As with most families, there will need to be discussions on how to treat all the siblings fairly.

“Farm financial experts point out that each generation can’t afford to re-buy the farm,” notes Ellen, “but we want everything to be fair for my sisters and the most important thing is family harmony.”

Shaun and Ellen are exploring other options to accelerate their progression into full-time farming, but it’s going to take determination and dedication, along with ongoing family communication. 

Formal agreements desirable

Shelly Carberry
Humboldt, Saskatchewan

Shaun and Ellen recently sought assistance from the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopersLLP (PWC) office in Humboldt. While it’s early in this professional relationship, Shelly Carberry of PWC notes that the couple may want to eventually develop a more formal agreement with Ellen’s dad and mom.

“We see a lot of cases where family members farm together and they don’t keep track of who bought what and when,” Carberry says. “Some equipment may have been bought individually and some jointly. It can be a real problem to untangle this when the farming situation changes.”

She notes it’s always a good idea to develop written agreements to avoid misunderstandings.

Sometimes a formal joint venture agreement can be useful - it can clearly define:

  • what each party brings to the relationship
  • how costs and returns are shared

From an AgriSuccess article by Kevin Hursh.

Update: November 2019

Transition continues to be a carefully managed discussion among these family members. But Shaun and Ellen have taken a big step towards farm living – George and Caroline transferred title to a quarter section across the road from the farmstead to their daughter and son-in-law, on which they could build their own home. The Grueters didn’t waste any time – they worked on lot development through the spring and summer and moved in early in 2019.

“It was bare field with nothing on it, but it’s ours, and we’re making it our home,” Ellen says. “For us, being out here is huge.”

From an AgriSuccess update by Owen Roberts.