PR - AN ACTOR-ORIENTED APPROACH TO UNDERSTANDING DAIRY FARMING IN A LIBERALISED REGIME: A CASE STUDY OF IRELAND’S NEW ENTRANT SCHEME
With the abolition of dairy quotas in 2015, major change in Europe’s dairy industry is imminent not only at the levels of national and international markets but at the level of individual farms. Critical questions in this context are how farmers will react to the myriad of challenges coming forth from changed policy circumstances and, relatedly what influences will ultimately determine their strategies at farm level? As part of a broader multi-disciplinary research project, this paper presents a narrative analysis of dairy farmers participating in Ireland’s New Entrant Scheme, an initiative that has facilitated the establishment of over two hundred new dairy farms in preparation for imminent quota deregulation. The paper focuses specifically on key actor-oriented dynamics determining the decisions of the New Entrant farmers (NE) at this critical period in the transformation of dairy production. Led by an actor-oriented approach, we examine through the NEs’ narratives the complex social interfaces where farmers interact with family members and peers. Peer-to-peer and social learning, which from the perspectives of the NEs culminated in the generation of credible, useful and trustworthy information, was found to have a powerful influence on the decisions of the NEs. The NEs’ decisions were found overall to reflect the economic, social and cultural functions of their farm families, particularly in relation to providing for the needs of family members and maintaining the resilience of the family farm for succession purposes. A contrast was evident between major strategic decision-making affecting the operation of the farm in the long term and decision-making relating to production and management techniques that were less transformative. The views of family farm members were penultimate in the New Entrants’ decisions to embark on new enterprises, while social learning interfaces were highly influential on habitual production and management techniques.
Keywords: farmer decision-making, actor-oriented, social interfaces, peer learning, social learning