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Farmers’ perception of opportunities for farm development

Methorst, Ron

Abstract

Differences in the perception of opportunities for farm development is researched in this thesis in relation to differences in the embedding of the farm in the socio-material context. This study contributes to a Sociology of Entrepreneurship in focusing on the decision-maker specific aspects using the concepts Opportunity Identification, Strategic Decision-Making and Embeddedness. In a case study of family dairy farmers operating in a highly comparable socio-material context at the level of the case study, a mix of quantitative and qualitative data were used to analyse differences at the level of the decision-makers on the family farm. Based on the perceived viability of 15 opportunities for farm development to contribute to farm income, four clusters of opportunities were found that represent different farm development strategies: 1) maximising production; 2) optimising the use of own resources; 3) diversifying production; and 4) ending dairy farming. Personal views and preferences showed to be the most influential driver, mediating the influence of the combined set of seven drivers on the perception of opportunities. Taking the perspective of embeddedness, every farm development strategy appeared to have different sets of relations for three dimensions of the socio-material context: the socio-cultural context, the dairy value chain and the use of resources for production. These sets of relations differ on a scale ranging from more ‘close’ to more ‘stretched’ set of relations, resembling a mixing paned of three sliders on which the family farmer positions itself, a positioning that is related to personal views and preference. The socio-material characteristics of a farm, thus, result from, and reflect how it is embedded in a set of heterogeneous relations. This finding supports the relevance of a relational perspective on farm development where strategic decision-making is the reiterative process of embedding farm practices in the different sets of relations of the farm with the socio-material context. The farmer’s interpretation of the complex and dynamic relations in the socio-material context affects the identification of opportunities for farm development. Approaching strategic decision-making as the positioning in sets of relations offers a non-normative approach to family farm development in relation to the socio-material context. Awareness of the influence of personal views and preferences combined with a non-normative approach is of relevance for effective policies and support programmes to support the development of vital farms in vital rural areas.

Keywords: family farm, farm development, strategy, opportunity identification, strategic decision-making, embeddedness