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Understanding processes of change for family and labour on expanding Australian dairy farms

R.A. Nettle1, M.S. Paine and R.J. Petheram

1 Institute of Land and Food Resources, The University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria 3010.


This study of labour issues in the Australian dairy sector focuses on adaptation and change of family farms in relation to ‘free-market’ imperatives and social change (eg. family members not returning to the farm, the increasing importance given to leisure and lifestyle). The research involved case study dairy farms (selected for different combinations of ownership, control and involvement of family and non-family labour), and a farm owner group actively exploring pathways for improvement on their farms.


This poster identifies the "critical transition points" in the on-farm change in emphasis from production management towards people management. The ways farmers manage through these critical transition points are explored, as are the implications of the transition for the families and employees. Understanding the processes of adaptation and change could assist in the design of effective interventions for the dairy industry. Such interventions would aim to foster harmony in farm labour issues that will reduce the social and economic costs of conflict while supporting the development of all people in the industry - not just those with access to land and capital. This is an important issue for extension.


The conclusion is that critical transition points for employers are managed through critical reflection and self-evaluation based on the different experiences in employing. Also, the power of the partnership (business or husband and wife) is an important response in managing transitions, as is the active re-definition of the type of skills required in the new arrangements and purposefully developing them. Employees have shown that through negotiation and using their experience and education, they can achieve unusual but fulfilling career pathways. The industry could contribute by providing forums for active discussion and experimentation in improvement processes.

In understanding issues involved with farm labour, a balance is needed between the theories of human resource management (which encourages greater understanding between parties in employment relations) and the perspective that power is achieved through ownership of land and capital only (which elevates the place of power in employment conflict). The characteristics of such a balance are discussed, along with the role of extension in the farm labour area.

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