Dr Shane Conway, Postdoctoral Researcher in the Discipline of Geography’s Rural Studies Unit at NUI Galway, was recently announced as the winner of the Geographical Society of Ireland (GSI) Doctoral Research Award 2020.
Dr Conway was presented with the award for his PhD research that explored the human dynamics affecting intergenerational farm transfer in later life.
This prestigious national award was open to any graduate of a higher education institute in Ireland who had successfully defended their PhD degree since January 2016.
Support from farmers
Commenting on receiving the award, Dr Conway said:
“None of this would have been possible without all the farmers who generously took time out from their busy schedules to provide inestimable data and information for this research.”
“Their candour and willingness to open up and share their stories and experiences provided me with a unique insight into the world as farmers perceive it.”
“It is clear that the majority of farmers opt to maintain the facade of normal day to day activity and behaviour in later life, and such empirical findings will help inform more appropriate, ‘farmer-sensitive’ generational renewal in agriculture policy directions, and as a consequence, help prevent older farmers from being isolated and excluded from society, almost by accident rather than intention.”
Dr Conway’s winning PhD research, supervised by NUI Galway’s Dr John McDonagh and Dr Maura Farrell, provides an in-depth, nuanced understanding of the various emotional and social factors governing the attitudes and behaviour patterns of older farmers towards the ‘twin processes’ of farm succession and retirement.
Dr Maura Farrell, Lecturer with the School of Geography and Archaeology at NUI Galway, said: “Dr Shane Conway is highly deserving of this award from the Geographical Society of Ireland, having completed excellent research on generational renewal in farming, which has become widely acclaimed both nationally and internationally.”
“Shane’s research raises key questions about farm succession, considering issues of access to land for the young farmer, but also deliberating extensively on the impact and effect of succession on the older farmer.”
“Shane has made excellent advancements in questioning current generational renewal policy and putting forward key ideas for the future direction of succession and inheritance practices on national and international family farms.”
This important research revealed that the reasons why older farmers fail to plan effectively and expeditiously for the future are expansive.
These range from the potential loss of identity, status and power that may occur as a result of engaging in the process, to the intrinsic, multi-level relationship farmers have with their farms in later life.
The common denominator, however, is that intergenerational farm transfer is about emotion.
The so-called ‘soft issues’, that is the human dynamics involved, are the issues that distort and dominate the older generation’s decisions on the future trajectory of the farm.
Such issues have resulted in intractable challenges for farm succession and retirement policy over the past fifty years and are the issues which future generational renewal in agriculture strategies and interventions must take into account.
Farming is a way of life for many older farmers, and there can be detrimental consequences to their emotional wellbeing if they are cut off from their daily routines on the farm in later life.