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Basque farm animal sector suffering from lack of new generation to take over sheep farms

Elhuyar Fundazioa

The PhD thesis of the University of the Basque Country researcher, Ms Guadalupe Ramos Truchero, tackled the reasons why the Basque animal husbandry sector, specifically that of dairy sheep farming, is currently suffering from the lack of new generations to take over the running of the farms. To this end, the study aimed to answer the following question: Why do the children of sheep farmers decide to abandon or otherwise carry on managing the family-run farm? The work is entitled Generational continuity on family herd farms: dairy sheep in the Basque Country.

The aim of this thesis was to find out why certain young people opt to continue the family-run farm and other to abandon this work option. Taking into account that what is involved is a complicated decision, often a drawn-out one and in which numerous factors intervene, the interesting thing about the study is precisely the understanding of the development of the process by which the sons and daughters of sheep farmers opt for one or the other.

This is why Ms Ramos has opted for a qualitative approach and for undertaking 24 interviews with the offspring of sheep farmers in 4 regions of the Basque Autonomous Community (Cantábrica Alavesa, Goierri, Encartaciones and Arratia-Nervión). It is on their decision to work or not on the farm that the survival of the family business depends.

The results show that, on the one hand, the passing on of a working animal farm is not explained by any one concrete or isolated element. It is a complex theme in which various aspects intermix. The inheriting of such a farm is fundamentally a process whereby the children start to help their parents with the simplest farm chores. In any case, agricultural continuity is conditioned to a great extent by the possibility of family emancipation from potential successors.

Four social discourses

On the other hand, the analysis reveals the presence of four different social discourses by the offspring of shepherds regarding family farm succession. The first is the vocational discourse, represented by sons and daughters who decide to continue the family profession, a predominantly masculine discourse. The second is described by Ms Ramos as family work as a labour market opportunity, and held by sons and daughters who have chosen to work on the family farm because it provides them with secure and stable work compared to the precariousness of the labour market they may have access to. The third discourse regarding the continuity of dairy sheep farms is that known as "aparcado" (provisional). This is a predominantly feminine, discourse, present amongst the youngest children of shepherds and who do not wish to dedicate themselves professionally to animal farming because they reject both the idea of caring for a flock as well as the tasks involved. Despite this, they work exclusively on the family farm while awaiting a job that might meet their satisfaction. In any case, the majority discourse found amongst the interviewees is what Ms Ramos calls those freed from family tradition. In this, children of shepherds, fundamentally those with important academic careers, take a firm decision not to opt for farming as a profession.

In effect, this PhD thesis provides further valuable information on the social reality of farm succession from an individual perspective.

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Information about the author

Ms Guadalupe Ramos Truchero (Palencia, 1975) is a Sociology graduate and has undertaken her thesis under the auspices of José Ramón Mauleón Gómez from the Department of Sociology 2 at the Faculty of Social Sciences and Communications of the University of the Basque Country. She is currently chair of Sociology at the Faculty of Sciences of Work at the University of Valladolid. In order to carry out her PhD, Ms Ramos had the support of the Department of Education, Universities and Research of the Basque Government, The Swedish School of Social Sciences at the University of Helsinki (Finland) and the Agriculture and Food Development Authority - TEAGASC in Dublin (Ireland).

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