Tom Siderius and his wife could easily sell their farm in rapidly growing northwest Montana and ease into retirement. Instead, they continue working, socking away what they can from the farm and her job in town.
For farmers like Siderius, it can be difficult deciding whether to sell off their biggest investment and leave the only life they have ever known. In addition to the obvious financial considerations, strong emotional aspects also factor in.
"I think something about the land is, if they sell it and the wealth disappears into an account some place, they lose their identity," said Neil Harl, an emeritus professor of economics at Iowa State University.
Although experts say many producers plan for retirement and could live out their later years on investments, savings and Social Security, the bulk of their wealth tends to be tied to their farms. The amount may be impressive on paper but not enough to make the decision to sell it for retirement any easier.
"A lot of farmers may have a lot of land with value, but they don't think of themselves as well off," said Marsha Goetting, a family economics specialist at Montana State University Extension. "I think there's the thought that the kids won't let them starve, and where do you find a job in town?"
Sharon DeVaney, a professor of family and consumer economics at Purdue University, said farmers tend to work well beyond a typical retirement age. Often it is because they just like what they do, she said.
"I think intuitively they plan for retirement, but they don't intend to retire," she said.
DeVaney said most farmers prefer to keep the farm in the family, handing it down to the next generation rather than selling to a neighbor or stranger.
Some older farmers keep their land but rent it out for retirement money.
What happens to the land when the farmers retire is of particular concern to farm groups, which worry that land now producing crops will be sold to developers who want to carve it up for housing.
Carl Mattson said he does not want to end up like the older generation of farmers. The north-central Montana wheat farmer wants to travel and get off the farm.
"Their work has been so intense in their lifetime, their hobbies and fun have been surrounded by the farm," he said. "The guys in their coveralls have probably never taken the time to learn golf or play bridge or travel. The whole focus for 50 or 60 years has been the farm."
Siderius said his retirement is in his land -- if he wants to sell. But, right now, the 65-year-old producer said he is not interested. He said he does not know what he would do with himself if he quit.
"I look at some of my friends that retired and quit, and they're dead already," he said. "As long as my health is good, I feel I should be doing something."