Journal article

Contingency Revealed: New Zealand Farmers' Experiences of Agricultural Restructuring

Agriculture Farming Social change New Zealand

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.

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