Exploring the human dynamics affecting the intergenerational family farm transfer process in later life: A roadmap for future policy
Conway, Shane Francis
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Intergenerational family farm transfer is increasingly viewed as crucial to the survival, continuity and future prosperity of the agricultural sector, traditional family farm model and broader sustainability of rural society. While financial incentives designed to stimulate and entice this complex and highly topical phenomenon are important, there are many more facets to the farm succession and retirement decision-making process, which for the most part have been neglected. This has resulted in the formulation and implementation of largely unsuccessful policy strategies, which do not give proper and due consideration to the senior generation’s attachment to their farm and occupation. One such key example happened in the Republic of Ireland, where an Early Retirement Scheme (ERS 3, June 2007), requested farmers retiring under the scheme to ‘cease agricultural activity forever’. Essentially, older farmers were asked to revise their self-perceptions upon retirement. Challenging this one-dimensional approach, this research sets aside economic enticements and delves deeper into the mind-set and mannerism of farmers in later life to inform more appropriate, ‘farmer-sensitive’ farm transfer policy directions. This thesis consists of three interrelated journal articles. Each interconnected article explores the various human dynamics influencing and hindering the older generation’s decision-making processes surrounding farm succession and retirement from a different theoretical base. Article 1 theoretically pioneers the use of Pierre Bourdieu’s notion of symbolic capital to comprehend the psychodynamic and sociodynamic factors influencing the unwillingness and reluctance amongst older farmers towards relinquishing management and ownership of the family farm and retirement. Article 2 explores the micro-politics and hierarchical power dynamics at play within family farm households through the analytical lens of Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of symbolic power, and the exercise of symbolic violence. Finally, article 3 applies Graham Rowles’ concept of insideness as a theoretical framework to present an insightful, nuanced analysis of the deeply embedded attachment older farmers have with their farms. A multi-method triangulation design, consisting of self-administered questionnaires (n=324) and an Irish adaptation of the International FARMTRANSFERS Survey (n=309) in conjunction with complementary Problem-Centred Interviews (n=19), is employed to obtain an in-depth, holistic understanding of the various facets governing the attitudes and behaviour patterns of older farmers towards the intergenerational family farm transfer process. Empirical findings indicate that the senior generation’s reluctance and indeed resistance to alter the status quo of the existing management and ownership structure of the family farm is undoubtedly strong within the farming community. The reasons why older farmers fail to plan effectively and expeditiously for the future are expansive, and range from the potential loss of identity, status and power that may occur as a result of engaging in the process, to the intrinsic, multi-level relationship farmers have with their farms in later life. The common denominator however, identified in this study, is that intergenerational family farm transfer is about emotion. The central role of the human dynamics involved can override and stifle various collaborative farming policy efforts aimed at facilitating land mobility from one generation to the next. The study concludes by suggesting that financial enticements encouraging intergenerational farm transfer must be accompanied by a comprehensive set of interventions to deal with the personal and social loss that the senior generation of the farming community may experience upon transferring the farm. A series of recommendations are set forth geared specifically towards ensuring farmers’ emotional wellbeing and quality of life in old age. Such recommendations are directed at policy makers and key stakeholders who have the means and ability to deliver future interventions and programmes that sensitively deal with problematic issues surrounding this complex area.