The new Common Agricultural Policy for the period 2014-2020 is expected to provide nearly 180,000 young farmers with an installation grant, an EU spokesman has told EurActiv.
Eurostat, the EU’s statistics office, last week (26 November) published a survey which found that in 2013 young EU farmers aged under 35 represented just 6% of all holding managers.
Contacted by EurActiv, Eurostat explained that the term “holding manager” refers to the “decision-maker” of a farm.
Low number of young farmers
According to Eurostat’s survey, of the total 10.8 million farms in the EU almost 3.5 million (31.1%) were managed by people aged 65 or over, and a further 2.6 million (24.7%) by managers aged between 55 and 64.
Farmers younger than 35 accounted for just 6% – a figure that raises questions over the long-term viability of the sector.
The highest number of managers aged 65 or over was recorded in Portugal (50.1%) and in Romania (41.0%).
On the other side, Germany (6.5%), Austria (8.6%), Poland (9.6%), Finland (10.2%), France (12.4%) and Luxembourg (14.4%) registered the lowest numbers of managers aged 65 or over.
Except Poland (12.1%) and Austria (10.9%), the percentage of the holding managers aged under 35 stood below 10% in all EU member states.
The lowest numbers of young farmers were recorded in Cyprus (1.7% of all holding managers were aged below 35), Denmark and Portugal (both 2.5%) and the Netherlands (3.1%).
A challenge for the new CAP
The relatively low number of young farmers does not come as a surprise to the EU.
For this reason, the last CAP reform increased the scope of measures available for young farmers and the member states have now the possibility of boosting the number for young farmers via Rural Development Programmes, the second pillar of the CAP.
>>See the infographic: Can innovation feed the world?
Daniel Rosario, a spokesperson for Agriculture and Rural Development, told EurActiv that under the new CAP nearly 180,000 young farmers are expected to get an installation grant in the current programming period until 2020.
“In addition to this, the recent CAP reform supported the Commission initiative to provide a 25% top-up to the direct payment amounts for young farmers under 40 for the first five years after they enter the sector,” Rosario noted.
The same Eurostat survey found that from 2003-2013 more than four million farms disappeared in the EU, while the total area used for agricultural remained the same.
“This means increasing agricultural concentration, with the average area per holding growing by 38%, from 11.7 hectares in 2003 to 16.1 hectares in 2013,” Eurostat explained.
France and Spain accounted for almost 30% of the used agricultural area in the EU and the largest farms were recorded in the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom.
Cyprus experienced the largest decrease of utilized agricultural area (30.1%).
An EU source told EurActiv that the downward trend in the number of farm holdings had been clear for many years, averaging -3% in the 15-member pre-accession EU states, and being somewhat higher in many of Eastern Europe countries linked to the restructuring process.
“The number of farms decline because on average farms are getting bigger. Thus, if a farmer stops farming, mainly because of old age, his or her farm is likely to be merged into another one or the land is split among several existing farms”, the EU source explained, adding that this reduced the overall number of farms and improved overall competitiveness.
“The area of agricultural land remains relatively stable, and the improvements in yields and production capacity means that the EU farm sector has still been able to increase production,” Rosario underlined and added:
“There are many aspects in the new CAP to help further increase productivity and improve sustainable production methods in order to meet the challenge of producing more using less.”
In June 2013, politicians approved the first major reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in a decade, following months of haggling over quotas, subsidies and measures to improve environmental accountability.
But when the new rules took full effect in 2015, a year behind schedule, some of the same leaders who approved it were calling for changes to policies they said were too cumbersome to administer.
>> Read our LinksDossier: CAP: Still a work in progress