Since the turn of the twentieth century, a rapidly changing rural environment has forced agricultural extension services to undergo readjustments and major restructuring in order to remain relevant and valuable to farming communities. Issues concerning public funding for extension services, along with a dramatic decline in farm income, a significant increase in part- time farming and the emergence of a new multifunctional type agricultural regime has forced the Irish extension service (Teagasc) to make significant modifications to their organisation, programmes and methods of delivery. One programme indicative of this restructuring is “The Options for Farm Families Programme” which adopts a holistic approach whereby extension advisers transfer knowledge and advice to farmers relevant to their future “options.” Drawing from an action evaluation of the Options Programme this paper explores the views and attitudes of programme participants, managers and advisers in relation to its delivery to farm family participants. Although many benefits of the programme are identified, what also becomes apparent are problems of programme awareness and levels of participation; the continued use of outdated paternalistic delivery methods and prescriptive rather than consultative structures under which the programme operates. Furthermore what emerges is the importance of appropriate “bottom-up” programme evaluation methods and the realisation that the willingness of farmers to explore their “options” is very dependent on the way in which knowledge is disseminated to the farm family and the levels of engagement at which the extension advisory service operate.
Keywords: Agricultural Change, Action Evaluation Research, Advisory Programme, Options for Farm Families Programme