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Why small farms persist? The influence of farmers’ characteristics on farm growth and development. The case of smaller dairy farmers in NZ

Westbrooke, Victoria, Nuthall, Peter
The Australian journal of agricultural and resource economics 2017 v.61 no.4 pp. 663-684
dairy farming, data collection, economic factors, extension programs, farmers, growth and development, human capital, issues and policy, large farms, primary productivity, small farms
Human capital is an important resource in primary production impacting on farmers’ decisions and actions. Given their current and expected economic environment, farmers must use their human capital in mapping out a trajectory for their farm. This study considers particular aspects of farmers’ human capital and its influence on farm growth, or lack of it. Farmers’ characteristics as expressed through their personality, intelligence and objectives are the main human capital aspects considered in a sample of smaller NZ dairy farms. They are somewhat typical of western farmers working on smaller farms. They can be broadly classed into Expanders, Maintainers and Retractors. It is hypothesised each group will have distinct and different personal characteristics and these influence the farmers’ choice of trajectory. This is in addition to purely economic factors. It is also hypothesised the characteristics influence the farmers’ choice of development strategy and how challenges to the strategy are viewed. The data collected from the small dairy farms support the hypotheses suggesting the design of policy and extension programs must allow for these human capital drivers. Using past data, it is also shown aspects of human capital are different in large farms emphasising the same conclusion.