February 2004 // Volume 42 // Number 1 // Tools of the Trade // 1TOT6

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A Web Site to Help Farmers Decide If They Can Afford to Retire

Because many farmers are concerned about whether they can afford to retire, a Retirement Estimator for Farm Families was developed for use on the Internet. Farmers are advised to consider life expectancy and think about how income and expenses could change in retirement. Farmers can use the site to enter their information on income and expenses in retirement and obtain feedback on whether they can afford to retire. Links to other resources such as the Social Security Administration and a life expectancy calculator are featured on the site.

Sharon A. DeVaney
Associate Professor
Department of Consumer Sciences and Retailing
Purdue University
West Lafayette, Indiana


A series of interviews and focus groups with farm families in the spring of 2001 about their plans for retirement revealed that many farmers did not have a vision of retirement. The reasons included:

  • Not having any plans for other work or leisure,
  • Uncertainty about being able to afford to retire, and
  • Difficulty in working through issues related to farm transfer (DeVaney, 2002).


To help farmers answer the question, "Can I afford to retire?" three Purdue University faculty members developed a Web site to estimate the affordability of retirement (DeVaney, Bechman, & Patrick, 2002). The development of the Web site was based on the results of previous research. A survey of farmers in five states by Bailey and Turner (1994) showed that farmers believed the Cooperative Extension Service was a more important source of retirement information than other advisors.

Also, Bechman, DeVaney and Patrick (2002) felt that they could reach the largest number of farmers if they developed an Internet tool. They based this on the findings of a survey on computer use from the Indiana Farm Progress Show in 2001. The survey showed that the majority of farmers who attended the Farm Progress Show used the Internet.

The evaluation of a 6-week financial education program in three states showed that the participants who used their workbooks during and after the program adopted more financial practices (Gorham, DeVaney, & Bechman, 1998). Therefore, DeVaney, Bechman and Patrick decided to have farmers enter their information into a calculator on the Web site as opposed to the Web site being a source of information with no input from farmers or feedback to the farmers.

Web Site Content

How Much Income Will Be Needed?

A next step was deciding how to organize the information on the Web site and what information to include. To help farmers project how much income would be needed in the future, it was decided that the Web site, A Retirement Estimator for Farm Families, should include information on:

  • Calculating life expectancy,
  • Considering changes in spending after retirement,
  • Determining the amount of income that would be available in retirement, and
  • Estimating what expenses would be in retirement.

Another decision that the group made was that the Web site should be interactive. This meant that farmers could enter information, learn whether retirement was affordable, and make changes to their entries to try other scenarios (such as increasing the amount of income or reducing expenses). Monetary values would be entered in current dollars, and this would eliminate the need to consider inflation.

When farmers use the Retirement Estimator, they are prompted to think about current living expenses. Then they are asked to consider how expenses could change after retirement. Next the Retirement Estimator prompts farmers to consider how long they and a spouse might live. The Estimator links to life insurance tables to provide estimates of life expectancy, and it also links to a life expectancy calculator that has questions about lifestyle, health, and other factors.

How Much Income Will Be Available?

In the future income section, the Estimator links to the Social Security Administration site. This link enables farmers to obtain an estimate of Social Security retirement benefits for themselves and for a spouse. Next, farmers are prompted to enter all sources of future income including income from other employment, pensions, Individual Retirement Accounts, investments, and so forth. Future income of the spouse is also entered.

The next section is farm-related income. Farmers are prompted to enter estimated annual income from crop land, pasture land, sale of assets, custom work, and any other sources.

The next section is farm-related payments after retirement. In this section, the Estimator prompts farmers to enter amounts for taxes, loans, insurance, and other items.

The Outcome

After the Retirement Estimator calculates whether retirement is affordable, it provides a statement that retirement is possible or not possible. Then a "change screen" allows farmers to enter new values for any of their previous entries. This results in a new statement about the affordability of retirement. It is possible to print the screen that contains all of the information that the farmer entered. The site does not retain any information when the farmer exits the program. The Retirement Estimator is available at http://www.ces.purdue.edu/farmretirement/.

The Estimator offers a section on Retirement Tips with links to several other sites. One of the links is Planning for A Secure Retirement at http://www2.ces.purdue.edu/retirement/. This site provides information about retirement planning in general. A link to the Social Security Administration provides information about Social Security benefits and information about Medicare. The Retirement Estimator for Farm Families is free, and no password is needed. The site was developed with funding from USDA-CSREES. Extension educators will also find the Retirement Estimator as a link on the Financial Security in Late Life Web site. The Financial Security site is available at http://www.reeusda.gov/financialsecurity.


Bailey, W. C., & Turner, M. J. (1994). Significance of sources of retirement planning information for farmers. Financial Counseling and Planning, 5, 83-99.

DeVaney, S. A. (2002). Who gets grandpa's farm? Considering farm succession planning. Small Farm Digest, 5(2), 1-4.

DeVaney, S. A., Bechman, J. C., & Patrick, G. (2002). A retirement estimator for farm families. Rollout Conference for Financial Security in Later Life, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, March 21.

Gorham, E. E., DeVaney, S. A., & Bechman, J. C. (1998). Adoption of financial management practices: A program assessment. Journal of Extension, [On-line], 36(2). Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/1998april/a5.html