Dairy farmers have developed individual strategies designed to maintain or improve their quality of life. A project by BFH-HAFL collected and analysed a variety of those strategies.
Swiss dairy farms have experienced various kinds of pressure as a result of the restructuring of the sector. To date very little research has been conducted on how this affects the farming families’ quality of life and thus the sustainable development of their farms. The BFH-HAFL in collaboration with the AGRIDEA investigated the strategies dairy farmers have developed to improve their quality of life.
The interviews and focus group discussions with persons from 16 dairy farms revealed strategies in five areas:
- Strategies in the area of work organisation aim at freeing more time for recreation, for family and for planning, increasing flexibility or being less ‘tied down’. This is achieved, for example, by means of good livestock housing systems and facilities, regular days off, a beneficial constellation of people on the farm or inter-farm cooperation.
- In the area of workload reduction the focus is on appropriate mechanisation and automation of the farm or household with the aim of reducing physically strenuous work or achieving time savings.
- Improved work-life boundaries are achieved in part by means of construction measures (e.g. separate living area for apprentices), and in part through organisational measures such as temporary physical distance from the farm holding or reduced contactability during holidays.
- Maintaining social contacts or attending working groups are strategies that help to broaden one’s horizon, counteract habitual blindness to organisational deficiencies and stimulate self-reflection.
- Adjustments to the farm’s strategic direction serve to maintain enjoyment in the work as well as to achieve greater appreciation and/or profitability. The strategies mentioned included conversion to organic production or the reduction, outsourcing or termination of a farm enterprise.
Some strategies that proved successful from the dairy producers’ point of view are easy to implement, while others require a lot of planning and resources. The strategies identified in the study can also serve as a catalogue of ideas for farms beyond the dairy sector. However, each farming family has to find its own individual strategy. Advisory and extension services can support them in this endeavour.
The issue of quality of life in agricultural advisory work
Some advisors consistently ask questions about quality of life during consultation, while others feel too inexperienced in dealing with the topic. This was found in focus group discussions with 15 agricultural advisors. Quality of life is linked to many aspects at the farm, family and personal levels. The project therefore recommends that quality of life be specifically included in strategic decisions as well as in technical consultations on various topics.
- Dairy farmers improve their quality of life by means of a variety of measures in different areas.
- The strategies range from small adjustments, such as regular breaks or weekends off, to various forms of cooperation between farms or to adapting the farm’s strategic direction, for example by moving to a full grazing system with seasonal calving.
- Advisory offers and experiences with regard to the issue of quality of life vary between advisory institutions and advisors.
- In order to do justice to the important but highly individual issue of quality of life, the topic should in future be integrated consistently into every type of agricultural advisory service. Combined with specialist topics, the advisory offers can be rendered more attractive and producers can be better served than is presently the case.