Advisory services in Ireland have evolved towards a technical focus, away from the farm family and household. However, even though there is less overall involvement of families in the running of farms, decision-making is influenced by more than the farm operator. Teagasc introduced the ‘Opportunities for Farm Families Programme’ in 2001, which recognised that the challenges facing farmers required a 'whole family' response. The fundamental objective of the programme is to help farm families generate additional household income and improve quality of life.
The aim of the research outlined in this paper was to determine the views and attitudes of advisers and farm families to the programme. The majority of advisers and participants considered that the programme helped farm families to take a realistic look at their current situation and was useful in terms of identifying ideas to improve their income and quality of life. Families who participated together derived greater benefit than individuals. The key lesson learned from this research was the importance of early evaluation of new advisory approaches. Educational institutions and extension agents need to highlight the importance of an objective assessment of both the deliverers’ (advisers) and target groups’ (participants) views on extension programmes. For assessments during programme delivery to be successful, they must be focused on the development of the programme and not the monitoring of extension agents. The information gathered from assessments should be used to guide the further development of programmes and appropriate training for advisers.
Keywords: Farm families, extension research, advisers, evaluation, education