New Zealand farmers were affected in significant ways by agricultural restructuring during the mid 1980s. Government, farmers' union, academic and media discourses all describe the ensuing years as a period of financial hardship for farm families. Based on aggregate statistics, the majority of these discourses reflect and 'naturalise' the government's neo-liberal stance, thus conveying an implicit assumption that farmers' experiences were determined by the economic efficiency of the farm enterprise. Drawing upon case study data and a holistic conceptual approach to the family farm, this paper contests such narratives, arguing that farm-level experiences of agricultural restructuring during (and after) the rural downturn were contingent upon a much greater array of factors. These included: the characteristics of the farm enterprise, household and property; actors' individual attributes; and the local context's biophysical, economic and cultural fabrics. The paper concludes by arguing that a full appreciation of the contingency of farm-level experiences requires an adequate recognition of the nexus of relations between the family farm, individual actor, and local context.