Why Do They Quit? Identifying Key Determinants of Beginning Farmers’ Decisions

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2015: $9,855.00
Projected End Date: 12/15/2017
Grant Recipient: Emory College of Arts and Sciences
Region: North Central
State: Georgia
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Peggy Barlett
Emory College of Arts and Sciences

Annual Reports


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: mentoring
  • Farm Business Management: agricultural finance, budgets/cost and returns, farmers' markets/farm stands, labor/employment, risk management, whole farm planning
  • Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life, local and regional food systems, quality of life, social networks

    Proposal abstract:

    As average U.S. farmer age continues to rise, recruiting and supporting beginning farmers is critical for the future of American agriculture. Although barriers to entry for beginning farmers are well-established, what causes some new farmers to leave agriculture after only a few years is not currently well understood. The proposed project aims to address this gap by investigating the range of factors that precipitate a new farmer’s decision to stop farming in Iowa.A burgeoning community of beginning farmers in Iowa is seeking to establish profitable, small-scale farms based in sustainable production principles including cover cropping, crop rotations, diversified cropping systems, and minimal reliance on external inputs. Many of these beginning farmers continue to run successful farm businesses for years, yet others stop farming shortly after starting. By systematically comparing these cases, the project aims to identify heretofore undocumented factors responsible for removing beginning farmers from agricultural production. Results will enable beginning farmers to better plan for and avoid such difficulties, and will equip agricultural organizations with systematic data to guide their programming aimed at beginning farmers.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Intended audiences include beginning farmers engaged in small-scale, sustainable food production in Iowa, aspiring beginning farmers, and public and private organizations that support beginning farmers such as Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI), Iowa State Extension’s Beginning Farmer Center, and beginning farmer training programs. Beginning and aspiring farmers, including all project participants, will learn what types factors were associated with the decision of former beginning farmers to stop farming (Farmer Learning Outcome). Armed with this information, beginning farmers and future farmers will be empowered to anticipate and plan for the kinds of events that cause their peers to stop farming and, thus, be better equipped to build long-term, economically viable agricultural careers (Farmer Action Outcome). Organizations such as PFI are currently working to recruit and assist young people interested in farming, but the factors contributing to people’s decisions to stop farming are currently unclear. Systematic data on the differences between people who continue farming and those who stop will critically inform the content of PFI’s training workshops, conferences, and written materials aimed at beginning farmers (Organization Action Outcome). Results will also be shared with other beginning farmer training farmer
    programs in the North Central Region identified during fieldwork. By collaboratively assessing the content of trainings, workshops, and materials aimed at beginning farmers and comparing them with findings, the proposed research will evaluate where current standards effectively help farmers avoid common missteps, as well as any potential gaps in current standards of advice that are not currently recognized (Organization Learning Outcome).

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.