Conference paper


This paper reports on research which follows the difficult process of farm families preparing for and subsequently leaving farming. The period of exit covers the millennium drought of 2000-2010 in four case study areas in Victoria, Australia. It is concerned with families still of working age, in order to trace their subsequent employment outcomes. Identifying exiting farmers from a larger quantitative survey, it uses semi-structured in-depth interviews conducted with twenty-nine farmers, spouses and couples between 2012 and 2013 and frames the research through adaption of an evolutionary economic geography approach. The research finds that push and pull factors must be considered in understanding why the farm business ceased to operate. Most farmers took up work as farm hands or in small business but spouses’ career trajectories underwent little change. Farms were sold to neighbours, leased or were, at the time of the interview, non-operational. Most families are better off economically but a significant minority have less personal fulfilment. There is no natural ‘shaking out’ of the less competitive farmers. Bad luck and global economic conditions, filtered through local area characteristics, play a major role. Further, the decision to quit is a household-scale decision influenced by multiple non-farm considerations. A major structural issue is the state of job markets in rural areas which are tied to the fortunes of the rural sector. In other words, the broader challenge lies not only in ‘drought proofing’ farms, but through regional planning and other measures drought-proofing communities.

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