Farm Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are hosting a one-day, virtual conference on September 13, 2023 focused on U.S. farm households' social and economic needs. 

Efforts to recruit and retain the next generation of farmers have traditionally focused on supporting the farm business through a focus on access to land, capital, and business management skills. While addressing these barriers are important, these efforts are likely insufficient as they fail to consider the full suite of social and economic challenges faced by farm households. From a theoretical standpoint, farm families are embedded in a complex agri-family system. Within the micro-level of this system, the farm household and the farm operation are interconnected through the constant exchange of resources (i.e. time and money). Challenges faced by the farm business can therefore have negative consequences on the farm household, and likewise, challenges faced by the farm household can negatively impact the farm business. Despite these theoretical insights and some empirical evidence that farm families experience household-level challenges connected to health insurance and health care, childcare, and insufficient household income, we know little about how household challenges impact the farm business. Directly connected to this knowledge gap is a limited understanding of the ways in which existing social programs and policies (which are specifically designed to meet these needs) may support farm sector profitability, survivability, resilience, and transition.

We invite theoretical, empirical, and discussion papers at the intersection of farm households’ social and economic needs, social programs and policies, and farm business viability. Farm households’ social and economic needs include, but are not limited to: access to health insurance and health care, childcare, affordable housing, nutrition and food security, poverty, and retirement. The papers can be based on new research or can revisit data previously analyzed with a new eye towards the focus of this conference.

Through a mix of paper presentations and panel discussions, the goal of this one-day conference is four-fold: 1) to broaden the long-standing body of work seeking to understand why, how, and which farm families are able to cultivate successful farm businesses in the face of on-going changes and the inherent instability of the agricultural sector, 2) to initiate the scientific debate on the linkages between farm households’ social and economic needs, social policies, and farm business development, 3) to develop new networks of family farm scholars and practitioners working on these topics, and 4) to better understand data available to understand these relationships, as well as identify data gaps. Conference contributors will also have the opportunity to submit a paper for inclusion in a special issue of the journal Agriculture and Human Values. The deadline for the submission of papers for consideration in the special issue is November 2023.

Potential research questions connected to the theme include:

  • What are farm households’ lived realities meeting their social and economic needs?
  • In what ways do the social and economic needs of the household shape decisions connected to the farm operation’s production and marketing decisions?
  • How do gender, race, ethnicity, and geography intersect with and influence farm household’s social and economic needs and the farm enterprise experiences, decision-making and trajectory?
  • To what extent can federal and state social safety net programs and policies bolster and increase the profitability, viability, survivability, or resilience of the farm operation?
  • What theoretical, data and/or methodological limitations are limiting the exploration of farm families’ lived realities meeting their social and economic needs and the intersection with farm business development and viability?