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


    As the U.S. farmer population continues to age, recruiting and supporting beginning farmers is a vital priority for local, state, and national level agricultural organizations. Through interviews with beginning farmers and young people who recently quit farming, this comparative ethnographic project seeks to establish the range of factors that contribute to a beginning farmer’s decision to leave agriculture. Data collection took place between 2015 and 2016. Rissing conducted semi-structured interviews with 14 people from 12 farms who decided to stop farming within their first five years of starting a farm. She also completed over 50 interviews with people still farming and a range of others involved in Iowa agriculture. The project focused on beginning farmers running small-scale, diversified farms targeting direct markets. Although every farmer's story is complex and includes multiple variables, family relationships emerged as the most common reason for why farmers decided to pursue other work. Additional common reasons included burn out and financial strain. Analysis is ongoing as Rissing completes her dissertation.

    Project objectives:

    The primary objective of this research is to understand why some beginning farmers, after overcoming the initial barriers to entering agriculture, decide to stop farming within their first five years. In order to answer this question, we used a qualitative, comparative approach.

    Between June 2015 and August 2016 (NCR-SARE funding starting in September 2015), Rissing conducted ethnographic fieldwork with beginning farmers, former farmers, and a range of other agricultural stakeholders in Iowa. As part of Rissing’s broader doctoral dissertation work, the SARE funded component aimed to compare the experience of young people still farming to those who had decided to quit in order to better understand the factors that promote or undermine beginning farmers’ success—not only barriers to entry, which are well documented, but the events or decisions that can lead an established beginning farmer to leave agricultural production. We were particularly interested in examining the relationship between farm finances and the decision to either stay in or leave agricultural production.

    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.