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Fjorden, Pirsenteret


Karin Zbinden Gysin, Sandra Contzen, Bern University of applied Sciences, School of Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences HAFL

Karin.zbinden@bfh.ch, Sandra.contzen@bfh.ch

Topic: Retired but responsible: Assuming additional responsibilities for resilient Swiss family farms

Keywords: Family farming in Switzerland, retirement, responsibility, resilience


The qualitative study about retired former farmers in Switzerland this paper is based on draws semi-structured interviews with eight women and seven men aged 63 to 70, who are retired or will retire within a year. All but one have handed over the farm to a next generation, mostly to a daughter or a son. One couple moved to the nearby village, while all other interviewees still live on the farm together with their successors. All still feel responsible for the farm. On one hand retired farmers assume responsibility when working on the farm. This support for the younger generation is traditionally anchored and expected in exchange to care elderly farmers when becoming frail. On the other hand, the study shows that former farmers assume new responsibilities that are not part of this agreement between the generations: The younger generation is more often working off-farm, and the presence of the elder generation is vital to make sure that the animals are well, that someone is there when material is delivered or when children return from school. These duties go beyond the expected responsibilities of former farmers, restrict to a certain extent their freedom and in some cases force them to work beyond what they can. Most interviewees even make financial restrictions when providing direct financial support for the younger generation: They alleviate the financial load by paying bills for both households or by cooking for the whole extended family. The elder generation fears becoming physically too weak for working on the farm. They perceive themselves as a burden for the younger generation in case they don’t contribute with work but require care.

The changes in delegating and taking responsibilities in intergenerational settings can be seen as a strategic reaction to foster the resilience of family farms in a politically, economically and socially changed setting. They seem to challenge the solidarity between the generations. And they confront retired farmers with a new situation and with issues they are not used to address.

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