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The lived experience of farming households in the contemporary agricultural transition – An Irish cross-border perspective

   Ulster Business School

  Prof Anne-Marie Ward  Monday, February 27, 2023  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Agricultural production is an important facet of the economy on the island of Ireland. However, its sustainability is threatened by climate change and the associated pressures this brings to reconfigure traditional farming practices. Policymakers are placing farm businesses under increasing pressure to swiftly change centuries-old norms to reduce GHG emissions and comply with international agreements.

Yet, Irish farm businesses are traditionally small, family-based enterprises whose pace of change is inherently linked with the life cycle of the farming household. Farming is usually a whole-life vocation linked with a single farm for life. This creates a close connection with the land, and a lived “way of doing things”. As a result, the sheer pace of current changes in farming practices is likely to significantly exacerbate anxiety for many farmers. And this is against a backdrop of already significant issues with mental health and a lack of viability in many farming sectors. The move, then, to closely link the environment with farm payments, raises questions about the adaptability and occupational stress associated with this great transition and how it might be eased with appropriate supports and better recognition of issues of fairness and justice. 

At present, the literature examining this transition to environmentally sustainable farm business models is limited. Existing studies identify access to government subsidies, the perceived profitability of new farming practices and environmental consciousness as influential in farmers’ attitudes towards change. However, no study has examined the ‘lived experience’ of change and how this impacts the farm business model, farm income and farmer happiness. It is this holistic perspective that this project aims to deliver.

A particular novelty of the research is its multi-stakeholder participatory emphasis to build consensus and make recommendations in relation to farming across the island of Ireland. This is a promising avenue for delivering policy-relevant conclusions.


Brennan, M., Hennessy, T., Meredith, D. and Dillon, E., 2022. Weather, workload and money: Determining and evaluating sources of stress for farmers in Ireland. Journal of Agromedicine, 27(2), pp.132-142.
Holloway, L.E. and Ilbery, B.W., 1996. Farmers' attitudes towards environmental change, particularly global warming, and the adjustment of crop mix and farm management. Applied Geography, 16(2), pp.159-171.
Liu, T., Bruins, R.J. and Heberling, M.T., 2018. Factors influencing farmers’ adoption of best management practices: A review and synthesis. Sustainability, 10(2), p.432.
Ryan, M., Hennessy, T., Buckley, C., Dillon, E.J., Donnellan, T., Hanrahan, K. and Moran, B., 2016. Developing farm-level sustainability indicators for Ireland using the Teagasc National Farm Survey. Irish Journal of Agricultural and Food Research, 55(2), pp.112-125.
Suess-Reyes, J. and Fuetsch, E., 2016. The future of family farming: A literature review on innovative, sustainable and succession-oriented strategies. Journal of rural studies, 47, pp.117-140.
Vayro, C., Brownlow, C., Ireland, M. and March, S., 2020. ‘Farming is not Just an Occupation [but] a Whole Lifestyle’: a qualitative examination of lifestyle and cultural factors affecting mental health help‐seeking in Australian farmers. Sociologia Ruralis, 60(1), pp.151-173.

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