"We see that the list of objectives for the future CAP is getting longer and longer," noted Baecke, president of the European Council of Young Farmers (CEJA).
The European Commission put forward policy options to reform the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in November, putting more emphasis on environmental protection and food security.
But Baecke warned that the current generation of farmers was getting older, saying that "the age pyramid is currently upside down in agriculture".
According to Baecke, only 6% of the total agricultural population is made up of people under the age of 35. The rest, he said, are older and one third are even older than 65.
"Who will be the ones farming in 20 years' time or even in 2020 – because if one third are today over 65, in nine years they'll be 74 or older," he wondered.
"If you want innovation in this sector, don't ask the 32% of people who actually should already have retired to do that."
"If we are serious and have so much ambition for agriculture – the first priority should be generational renewal and making sure that the people who are motivated are at least supported or encouraged in their first years," Baecke said.
Difficulties starting up
Indeed, starting up a farm today would appear to be rather a risky and unrewarding adventure, according to the young farmers' chief.
First, you need to buy land, which is already scarce and prices are going up. Then you need to buy machinery, but access to credit is difficult when you are young and don't have the capital to back up loans.
If you somehow manage to start, then returns on capital in agriculture are generally low and it takes a long time to earn a return on your investment, he explained.
Meanwhile, growing price volatility is affecting stability and making young farmers in particular even more vulnerable. "If you've just started up, you don't have any buffer to absorb market imperfections or to manage times of low prices," Baecke noted.
Last but not least, with prices getting higher, costs are also increasing, he said.
If people still chose to get into the business, it is partly because they love the lifestyle, Baecke added, stressing that "some of the revenues are not paid in euros".
"As long as we get a reasonable and fair – of course you can ask what is fair – price that at least compensates you for your investment and costs, and also gives some return on your general investment, then it keeps you farming."
Need for more support
For Baecke, the measures currently targeted at young farmers in the CAP's second pillar, which deals with rural development, are "clearly not responding to the needs". Currently 3% of funding in that pillar goes to young farmers, but it is "not used, or not fully used, in many member states".
The next generation will deliver on the future CAP's objectives, "but we have to make sure that they can enter the sector," Baecke stressed.
This is why CEJA feels that prioritising support for young farmers in both pillars is needed. According to Baecke, in the first pillar on direct aid to farms, this prioritising could be done by changing the level of co-financing to make it clear to member states that young farmers are a priority.
In the second pillar, CEJA would like to replace the current 50-50% rate of co-financing with a 80-20% rate, with 80% of the funding coming from Brussels.
But the 20% payment coming from member states would remain as it is now, Baeke said, explaining that "this would represent much more than doubling the support for young farmers".
Mercosur trade deal to wipe out beef sector
Asked about the planned EU-Mercosur free trade agreement, Baecke said he would support such a deal "if food and agriculture was discussed at another table".
He said it was impossible to compare trade in the automotive sector with trade in agricultural commodities, dismissing analysis according to which the impact of European car exports to Brazil would be comparable to that of Brazilian food to Europe.
"Creating a situation in which you would wipe out some part of the agricultural sector in Europe in return for products coming from abroad is too much and that is not considered enough in these negotiations," he said.
He warned that full sectors such as beef production should "not just be traded out with other things," particularly not if the imported products fail to respect the same standards.