Farming in Europe has been the scene of several important socio-economic and environmental developments and crises throughout the last century. Therefore, an understanding of the historical driving forces of farm change helps identifying potentials for navigating future pathways of agricultural development. However, long-term driving forces have so far been studied, e.g. in anecdotal local case studies or in systematic literature reviews, which often lack context dependency. In this study, we bridged local and continental scales by conducting 123 oral history interviews (OHIs) with elderly farmers across 13 study sites in 10 European countries. We applied a driving forces framework to systematically analyse the OHIs. We find that the most prevalent driving forces were the introduction of new technologies, developments in agricultural markets that pushed farmers for farm size enlargement and technological optimisation, agricultural policies, but also cultural aspects such as cooperation and intergenerational arrangements. However, we find considerable heterogeneity in the specific influence of individual driving forces across the study sites, implying that generic assumptions about the dynamics and impacts of European agricultural change drivers hold limited explanatory power on the local scale. Our results suggest that site-specific factors and their historical development will need to be considered when addressing the future of agriculture in Europe in a scientific or policy context.