Sustaining the Family Farm at the Rural Urban Interface: Farm Succession Processes of Alternative Food and Agricultural Enterprises and Traditional Commodity Farmers.
Family farming has historically been reproduced through a complex process of farm succession. This process of intergenerational transfer of the farming occupation and farmland from parents to children is becoming more tenuous as an increasing number of farmers lack a farming heir. The absence of an heir may be especially problematic at the rural-urban interface (RUI), where farmland is already at risk of being developed for non-farm purposes. While activists and academics have touted a shift into urban oriented alternative food and agricultural enterprises (AFAEs) as a strategy for preserving farmland and farming at the RUI, a longer-term challenge to the viability of this adaptation may be the success of the succession process. The failure of AFEAs to persist across generations may result in these enterprises simply being transitional forms of farming before conversion to urban uses.
For this dissertation, three research objectives are tested to assess how household goals and values, succession, life cycle effects, farm structure, and land use policy affect the reproduction of the farming enterprise and ultimately the successful persistence of farming at the RUI. The first two questions are examined through a quantitative analysis of land owners in eight case study counties across the United States. The first question asks how household dynamics, household values and farm structure variables are associated with Commercial farm persistence at the RUI. The second research question compares the influence of household dynamics, values and farm structure among the Commercial (AFAE and Non-AFAE) and Rural Residential farmers. Comparison of means testing and a multinomial logistic regression model found lifecycle effects, availability of an heir, ability to afford retirement, education, substantive and instrumental values and to a more moderate degree farm type do influence farm persistence and adaptation strategies.
The third research question is a qualitative analysis examining the influence household factors and farm structure have on different farm types (First-generation AFAEs; Multi-generation AFAEs; Commodity, and Mixed type farms) at the RUI. When no heir could be identified farms either fell into a state of decline and disinvestment or opted to put their land into some form of preservation. When an heir could be identified, families engaged in four distinct types of adaptation strategies: the expanders; the intensifiers; the stackers; and the entrepreneurial stackers.
The interviews also brought forward the different types of AFAE farmers on the landscape. First-generation AFAE, Multi-generation AFAE and Mixed type farms demonstrate that while farmers across the RUI landscape appear to be adapting and implementing AFAE strategies their reasons for doing so are embedded in widely varying motivations.
A pressing issue facing Ohio and U.S. agriculture is the question of who will be the next generation of farmers. In recent years, the popular press, government reports, and academic papers have documented an aging farm population, a lack of succession planning, and the existence of fewer heirs choosing farming as an occupation. The absence of a farm succession plan or an identified heir may threaten the future of family farming and the rural communities that depend on them. At the rural-urban interface (RUI), an area distinguished by a high population growth and development pressure with varying rates of farmland being converted to non-farm purposes; a failure of the succession process can also impact whether farmland remains available for agricultural use.
At the RUI, farmers have been encouraged to transition from traditional commodity production (corn, beans, dairy etc.) to Alternative Food and Agriculture Enterprises (AFAE) focused on direct marketing, agri-tourism and value added production geared toward new urban clientele as a strategy for saving the family farm by increasing farm profitability. The goal of this research is to comprehend how the processes of succession contributes to farm enterprise persistence and adaptation at the RUI
The quantiative analysis highlighted the role of lifecycle in determining length of persistence for the years an individual expects to continue farming. Additionally, lifecycle effects and household values were significant variables associated with the years responds expected their enterprise to persist.
The qualitative analysis examined the influence of life cycle effects, household values, and goals on farm adaptation among first-generation AFAEs, multi-generation AFAEs, Commodity and Mixed type farms. First-generation AFAE farmers entered into agriculture as a conscious lifestyle and career choice, and were highly motivated by a strong set of substantive values generally rooted in spiritual and environmental concerns.Multi-generation AFAEs were more oriented towards instrumental values in order to obtain substantive lifestyle goals compared to the First-generation AFAEs. Commodity farmers were most sensitive to global competition and fluctuating commodity markets, this group tended to be oriented towards instrumental values in order to obtain substantive lifestyle goals. The Mixed type respondents were the most complex group, demonstrating the greatest interplay between instrumental and substantive rationalities to accomplish farm reproduction goals.
Succession was also found to play a critical role in enterprise adaptation strategies. When no heir could be identified farms either fell into a state of decline and disinvestment or opted to put their land into some form of preservation. In this study when an heir could be identified, families engaged in four distinct types of adaptation strategies: the expanders; the intensifiers; the stackers; and the entrepreneurial stackers.
At the RUI land is scarce and expensive, making the inheritance process more complex and uncertain. This research found that with the exception of Commodity growers, very few farmers were choosing a strategy of pure land expansion. The majority of farms were intensifying through an already established commodity mix (growing higher value crops), or expanding by stacking enterprises (of varying size and intensity) to allow more family members to earn a living from the farm and accommodate different phases of the lifecycle.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
To date current research findings have been presented at three professional meetings, and at the USDA Agriculture Outlook 2009 meeting. Reports and fact sheets based on these findings are presently in draft form and will be finalized in May 2009. These reports and fact sheets will be directed towards Extension, planners, and other appropriate governmental and nongovernmental organizations.
These findings will also aid agencies concerned with agricultural economic development initiatives by providing insights into strategies that will create long term rather then short term working agricultural landscapes.
Associate Professor, Rural Sociology Program
Ohio State University
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