Sustainable family farming futures: exploring the challenges of family farm decision making through an emotional lens of ‘belonging’

Lorraine A. Holloway*, Gemma Catney, Aileen Stockdale, Roy Nelson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
161 Downloads (Pure)


This paper illustrates the importance of moving beyond an economic focus, and towards an emotional one, to gain a more comprehensive understanding of why farmers can be reluctant to retire and/or pass their farm onto the next generation. We report on a two-phase qualitative study of family farm decision-making processes in Northern Ireland, drawing on 62 in-depth oral life history interviews with farmers, farmers’ spouses, and farm successors. In an attempt to gain a deeper understanding of the emotional aspects of retirement and succession decision-making processes, and their relationship with place belonging, in the first phase of this research we employed an innovative ‘Work and Talk’ method, whereby interviews were conducted while shadowing, or in some cases, co-working, with farmers on their land. The second phase of this research responded to restrictions arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, and involved remote telephone or online interviews with family farm members. This research revealed the complex relationships between a ‘longing for belonging’ and emotional attachment to the family farm, and the challenges associated with patrilineal farming structures, expectations and identities, in planning for succession. The emotional impacts of strained relationships with policy makers around support for retirement emerged as a surprisingly dominant theme throughout the interview process, suggesting the need for greater emphasis on the emotional aspects of farming retirement and succession planning to inform future rural development policies targeted towards the sustainability of family farms.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12271
Number of pages20
Issue number21
Publication statusPublished - 06 Nov 2021


  • family farm
  • ageing farmers
  • retirement
  • succession
  • emotions
  • decision making
  • belonging
  • respect
  • rural sustainability
  • Northern Ireland


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