Job search graphic

It isn’t easy to change jobs, but it can seem more difficult if you have spent much of a lifetime farming and now are looking at the idea of working for someone else.

“It’s a transition from a lifestyle to a business,” said Clayton Davis, vice president of BANK in Morning Sun, Iowa. “Some people will cope with that better than others.”

The biggest issue isn’t really economic, the banker said. The biggest problem is psychological. Too many farmers see the idea of getting an off-farm job as failure. They feel peer pressure, fearing that neighbors or friends will think less of them.

“It can be like a mean girls group,” he said.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Farmers who make the change can do well. For one thing, unemployment is low right now and there are job opportunities in most communities. For another, many farmers may find they are much more employable than they thought.

Too often farmers think that they have no job skills, said Mike Rosmann, a psychologist and farmer in western Iowa. But he said the farm work ethic, along with all the skills of an entrepreneur and often of a mechanic, make for a very marketable employee.

In addition, a farmer who is suffering from the stress that comes with difficult financial times may actually end up feeling relieved to not have to deal with that 24 hours a day, he said. A job where someone else deals with the bottom line could be beneficial, allowing the farmer to have more time with friends and family.

For some farmers who are struggling, an off-farm job might be exactly the right move, said Melissa O’Rourke, an Iowa State Extension farm management specialist. And she said they don’t need to go through that process alone. In most states the state job service program can be helpful. In Iowa that is Iowa Workforce Development.

“There are some really good people there,” she said.

For some situations, a part-time job may be enough to keep the farm operation afloat. In others, a full-time job is necessary, but often that really means a farmer is working two jobs, one in town and one on the farm, or the family must consider quitting farming, O’Rourke said.

One of the keys is to know the numbers and to have frank conversations with lenders or financial advisors.

Today’s farms deal in very large dollar amounts. In some of those cases, the income coming from an off-farm job simply isn’t going to be enough to justify keeping the farm business going, Davis said.

Remember that there are realistic opportunities off the farm, he said. For example, there is a huge demand for truck drivers.

The biggest hurdle, Davis said, is often the psychological one. Most young farmers understand that off-farm employment is not the end of the conversation. It is often the older farmers who struggle more with the transition.

“Sometimes you just have to stop the (financial) bleeding and get on with your life,” Davis said.

Gene Lucht is public affairs editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.