Supporting the wellbeing of exiting and exited farmers in Australia

  • Dominic Peel

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Farming and agriculture are undergoing a prolonged period of change worldwide. Average farm sizes are increasing, and the amount of labour required per unit of agricultural output is decreasing. This has resulted in considerable changes to the way farming is done, and in large numbers of farmers leaving farming with more expected to do so. Farm exit can affect the wellbeing of exiting farmers, and potentially their chances of success after farming. Despite this, relatively little research has examined the experiences of exiting farmers and the relationship between farm exit and farmer wellbeing. Wellbeing is a public good that benefits both individuals and society more broadly and supporting the wellbeing of exited farmers should be a priority. This thesis explores the relationship between farm exit and wellbeing in Australian farmers with the goal of improving knowledge about the likely effects of the exit process on wellbeing of farmers prior to, during and post-exit. This knowledge can inform the design of strategies to better support wellbeing and, ideally, result in better outcomes for exiting farmers and others. It does this by addressing three key research questions: i) Is there a relationship between leaving farming, the conditions associated with leaving farming, and wellbeing? ii) Do the individual characteristics of farmers moderate this relationship, and if so in what way? and iii) Does the nature of the farm exit process moderate this relationship, and if so how? Following a literature review, analyses of existing survey data provided insight into farmer wellbeing prior to exit. Interviews with current and exited farmers were then conducted. These informed the design of a survey instrument to collect quantitative data from exited farmers. Analyses of these data provided insight into the wellbeing of farmers post-exit. The main research findings are presented in four academic journal articles, three of which had been peer reviewed and published at the time of submission. The first two papers focus on the experiences of farmers pre-exit. The first of these found that there was a consistent and significant relationship between lower farm profitability (a common precursor of farm exit)and poorer wellbeing outcomes. The second paper found that there was a significant relationship between a greater perceived likelihood of leaving farming and poor wellbeing. The third and fourth papers examine the experiences of exited farmers. They explore two issues relevant to wellbeing and its relationship to farm exit: a loss of autonomy, and an accumulation of different stressors. The third paper found that exited farmers who reported a greater loss of autonomy after leaving farming had significantly poorer wellbeing than farmers who reported a lesser loss of autonomy. The fourth paper focusses on the cumulative effect of six stressors associated with farm exit on the wellbeing of exited farmers: a lack of community support, difficulty accessing support, family tension, loss of independence, difficulty getting a job and not liking that job. This paper shows that those who reported being exposed to a greater number of these stressors had poorer wellbeing than those who were exposed to few or none. The results presented in these four papers show an association between the wellbeing of farmers, pre-exit conditions and post-exit experiences. Overall, the results presented in this thesis highlight that farm exits are complex and that the process begins well before the actual exit. The findings suggest that wellbeing can be better supported by reducing the number of stressors experienced by farmers during the exit process, and by specifically targeting those farmers more at risk of experiencing reduced wellbeing through the exit process. Support provided to exiting farmers should be flexible and relevant to the individual needs of farmers, rather than relatively inflexible modes of support such as cash grants typical of past farm exit programs. Reducing the loss of wellbeing associated with farm exit has the potential to generate a substantial return in terms of additional productivity and reduced access to health and welfare services, and perhaps most importantly in the ability of farmers to achieve meaning and make positive contributions in their post-farming lives.
Date of Award2021
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorJacki Schirmer (Supervisor), Neil Byron (Supervisor) & Helen Berry (Supervisor)

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