Understanding the farmer: An analysis of the entrepreneurial competencies required for diversification to farm tourism

Phelan, Christopher James orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-1836-043X (2014) Understanding the farmer: An analysis of the entrepreneurial competencies required for diversification to farm tourism. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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This study analyses the processes of agricultural and rural restructuring that have characterised rural economies since the end of the Second World War, leading to a reorientation from productivist to more entrepreneurial models of farming. In particular, the transition from the conventional role of the farmer as price taker, which requires appropriate technical and managerial competency, towards that of price maker, which calls for broader entrepreneurial competencies is highlighted. This transition is explored in the context of farm tourism, identified as a diversification strategy to promote a more sustainable rural economy and to protect farm incomes against market fluctuation. To date, the literature on farm tourism has overlooked many of these processes and whilst conceptualising the farmer as an entrepreneur, has not sufficiently engaged with key theories of entrepreneurship or indeed emergent frameworks of entrepreneurial skill and competency.

The research draws on a mixed-method’s approach, which includes two distinct research phases conducted in the North West of England. In the initial phase, a survey of 118 diversified farm tourism businesses identifies that whilst the primary motivation to diversify is to provide additional household income, these farmers value business and management competencies at the expense of entrepreneurial competency. Thus, this initial phase, challenges the extent to which farmers are currently entrepreneurial in the context of the rural and agricultural restructuring highlighted. At the second research phase, utilising Q Methodology, a technique designed for the systematic study of subjectivity, a 42-item instrument developed from the extant literature on entrepreneurial competence was administered to 15 farm tourism entrepreneurs. The Q analysis identifies three distinct perspectives on entrepreneurial skill and competency which farmers identify as necessary for successful diversification, termed: the Reflective Leader, the Opportunity Aware Organiser and the Opportunity Driven Innovator. The main characteristics of these groups are discussed and provide the basis for a taxonomy of the farmer as a rural tourism entrepreneur. Moreover, the results reveal the heterogeneity of diversified farmers in the study region, which encapsulates a wide range of perspectives from the risk averse to the opportunity aware, from the managerial to the entrepreneurial

The thesis concludes by presenting a conceptual model of entrepreneurial competency, as well an additional taxonomy which classifies the farmer as a rural entrepreneur within a broad landscape of farming identity. The work thus provides a better understanding of farm tourism and a valuable insight into the complexity of rural and farm tourism entrepreneurship. As well as suggestions for future research, the findings will be of interest to academics and policy actors, with the conclusions providing a foundation to better understand farm diversification. Insights that may better inform rural business support, training and advisory services and foster critical policy discussion and debate.

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