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Gender Relations, Livelihood Strategies, Water Policies and Structural Adjustment in the Australian Dairy Industry

Alston, Margaret, Clarke, Josephine, Whittenbury, Kerri
Sociologia ruralis 2017 v.57 Suppl S1 pp. 752-768
dairy industry, environmental impact, farm families, farmers, females, interviews, irrigation, irrigation water, labor, livelihood, males, small farms, water policy, water shortages, water use efficiency, women
Concerns about water scarcity and consequent environmental impacts are driving major structural adjustment in the Australian irrigated dairy industry. This has resulted in government policy initiatives including water licence buybacks and grant schemes to improve water use efficiency. One consequence is the loss of many small farms and the development of larger technologically efficient farms with altered access to irrigation water. In farm families, who dominate the dairy industry, livelihood strategies, labour demands and the boundaries between traditional female and male spheres of labour are changing. We present findings from an Australian Research Council funded project examining the impacts of these changes on dairy families in the Murray Dairy region. We note that reshaped livelihood strategies and increased labour demands are further entrenching traditional gender relations and that labour is being re‐allocated in highly gendered ways. We note a ‘farmer‐manager’ role is evolving amongst male dairy farmers and a critical but less public role comprising significant input to labour tasks is evident amongst women on larger farms. Drawing on interviews with couples, most of whom were interviewed separately, we examine how gendered livelihood strategies are being reshaped at the same time as the significant contributions of women are being obscured.