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Abstract

Agricultural restructuring is not a new phenomenon. Indeed, recent decades have seen substantial changes, not only to the number and types of farmers and farm businesses, but also to ownership structures and to the relationship between land holding and management control. The Department of Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra), together with the UK Countryside Agencies, has commissioned a body of research in recent years which, taken together, offer important insights into the nature, speed and extent of restructuring in the UK and of the potential for further, accelerated change in the years to come. From this body of work it is clear that a prolonged and difficult process of disengagement from agriculture as a mainstream income source is beginning to take place, with evidence of both adaptation and resistance to change by a land management community which is becoming increasingly diverse in its social composition and behaviour. The adjustment to farming practice, living standards and lifestyles which all of this implies is not without personal cost and, while claims of an agricultural crisis may be exaggerated, it is clear that large numbers of farmers are finding they have to make difficult adjustments against a shifting background of policy reform and market change. Moreover, given the traditional centrality of farmers in rural communities, both as employers and as participants in many of the key institutions of rural life, there may be wider social implications of agricultural restructuring which now deserve to be more closely investigated. What, for example is the nature, extent and wider significance of the personal costs and social implications of agricultural restructuring.

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