Using Contribution Analysis to Assess the Influence of Farm Link Programs in the U.S.
AbstractThis paper examines 12 U.S. farm link programs (FLPs) using a type of program evaluation called contribution analysis (CA) to determine if FLPs are effective in facilitating farmland transfers between retirement-aged farmers without family successors and new farmers beginning their career. CA guided the data collection, which included web audits, interviews, questionnaires, and scholarly and grey literature review. We developed an analytical framework in the form of a theory of change, followed by analysis of the FLPs and their contribution to farm transfers. The analysis focused on four themes that emerged from the theory of change: (1) the effectiveness of FLP design and program activities; (2) the usefulness of FLP databases to meet the needs of farmers; (3) farmer motivation toward development or land preservation; and (4) trends and systemic influences on farm transfers. Although some FLPs experienced relative success, the lack of professional support systems, a heavy reliance on a self-serve Internet database, and the presence of various external conditions prevent most FLPs from facilitating substantial numbers of farm transfers. To conceptualize how FLPs may be more successful, a revised theory of change was developed, offering new perspectives on the systemic conditions in which FLPs operate.
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