Most of Europe’s agricultural land is in the hands of greying farmers: more than half of farmland is managed by farmers over the age of 55, and nearly a third by farmers over 65. In contrast, only 6% of the total land area is managed by farmers under 35.
Meanwhile, lack of access to affordable land for new farmers is widely recognised as the largest obstacle to new farming entrants.
Besides safeguarding the future of the EU’s farming sector, this decline in young farmers risks land concentration and a loss of the vitality of rural areas.
As such, generational renewal has been placed front and foremost as a key priority of the 2023-2027 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform.
But what is the current situation in EU member states? EURACTIV’s network digs deeper into the details in this Special CAPitals Edition of the Agrifood Brief.
Young farmers struggling to access land. In France, there are fewer than 400,000 farmers today compared to 1.6 million in the early 1980s. Meanwhile, the average age of farm managers in 2018 was 49.1.
This is a trend set to worsen, with one in two French farmers predicted to retire within the next decade.
Filling this gap is a huge challenge for France. One of the major problems is access to land for newcomers. With one-third of farm takeovers now occurring outside the family, young people are struggling to access land, which is increasingly expensive and coveted by large private companies.
One solution that has garnered widespread support is the so-called land portage. Promised by Emmanuel Macron in his “great text of orientation and agricultural future” and supported by many associations, it consists of public structures taking charge of the purchase of land for young people. After settling in and setting up shop, the land is then sold to new farmers when they are able to buy.
This is an “indispensable” measure that the Economic, Social and Environmental Council also recommends.
Meanwhile, in order to restore the image of the profession and make it more attractive, unions and public authorities have also been communicating extensively for years.
The ‘Entrepreneurs du vivant’ (entrepreneurs of the living world) campaign conducted in 2021 by the government was a success in terms of audience, with 82% of 25 to 49-year-olds able to discover these professions through short television films and “their fundamental role, their diversity, their wealth and the opportunities they represent.” The campaign was recently awarded a prize. (Hugo Struna | EURACTIV.fr)
Germany launches online ‘matchmaking’ platform for young farmers. Germany comes in seventh place among EU countries in terms of the share of farmers under 35 years old. With 7.4%, Germany has more young farmers than the EU average.
Still, around half of German farms are currently in the hands of someone older than 55 years, according to the Federal Statistics Institute. Many struggle with this: for almost 70% of those farms, it is not clear who will take over once the current owner retires, according to survey data the institute published this year.
Agriculture minister Cem Özdemir “has set the goal of (…) making sure the sector remains attractive for coming generations,” a ministry spokesperson told EURACTIV Germany.
Through CAP direct payments, those under 40 starting a farming business receive extra funding for the first five years. Under the reformed CAP, from 2023 on this premium will be more than tripled, but also tied to additional educational requirements.
Through funds administered by the federal regions, moreover, young farmers can get up to €20,000 of extra support.
Meanwhile, private projects are also trying to make an impact and help facilitate generational renewal. One such idea: Online matchmaking platforms where outgoing farmers and young ones looking to start their own business can find each other. (Julia Dahm | EURACTIV.de)
Austria number one in EU for young farmers. Among EU countries, Austria has the highest share of young farmers (under 35 years old) at 12.2% of the farming population, according to 2021 data from the European Commission.
Meanwhile, in 2016, the age bracket into which the biggest number of farm managers in Austria fell was between 45 and 55 years old, according to national data.
To make sure the age structure in the sector stays well-balanced in the future, Austria supports young farmers financially through the CAP as well as through numerous training and advisory services, a spokesperson of the agriculture ministry told EURACTIV.
Apart from the young farmers’ support that tops up CAP direct payments during the first five years after starting out, young people starting a farm receive an additional so-called “establishment premium,” to which various bonuses can be added.
Meanwhile, the state offers training for young farmers, such as courses for the development of specialist skills, which are structured in individual modules to make it easier for already active farmers or lateral entrants to follow alongside their job.
Advisory services aim to answer case-by-case questions on taking over a farm and help new farmers to develop their business concepts. (Julia Dahm | EURACTIV.de)
European Commission unconvinced by Ireland’s efforts on generational renewal. Despite the fact that the Irish agri-food sector generated as much as 7% of gross value added (€13.9 billion) in 2016, falling farmer numbers continue to plague the Irish farming sector.
In 2016, the Central Statistics Office showed there were 137,500 farms in Ireland, down from a total of 141,527 farms in 2000 – a steep decline.
However, of greater concern is the fact that in 2016, on 30% of Irish farms the farm holder was over 65 years of age, while the number of farmers under the age of 35 halved from 2000 to 2010, according to a report produced by the European Network for Rural Development on generational renewal in Ireland.
To tackle this decline, a number of policy initiatives have been put in place, such as early farm retirement schemes. However, these were short-lived and were found to have little to no impact on generational renewal.
With the pressure on, Ireland moved to put in place an additional suite of policies, including a Young Farmers Installation Scheme and New Entrants into Farming Scheme, as well as additional policies around farm partnerships.
Meanwhile, Ireland has placed a strong focus on the issue in its CAP national strategic plan, offering a minimum of 3% of the direct payments’ envelope to be allocated to Complementary Income Support for Young Farmers (CIS-YF), which seeks to provide additional income support for farmers in younger age cohorts. A higher grant rate of 60% has also been proposed to support young women farmers.
However, in its observation letter to Ireland’s first draft of the plan, the European Commission reserved some criticism for the plans, requesting further clarification of how the proposed support may contribute to job creation. (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)
‘Number one challenge for Spanish farming over the next decade’. According to the Spanish minister of agriculture, fisheries and food, Luis Planas, generational renewal ranks as the biggest challenge to the Spanish agricultural sector in the next ten years.
“If we had to choose among the ten major agricultural issues for the next decade, I believe that generational change would be the number one,” he told EFE Agro.
Only 8.6% of farm owners in Spain are under 40, which places Spain below the 11% average for the EU according to Eurostat data. Around 60% are between 40 and 64 years old, while 31.3% are more than 65 years old, making generational renewal an important challenge for Spanish authorities.
To tackle this issue, the Spanish government’s national strategic plan of the CAP 2021-2027 includes a fund of €220 million per year specifically to promote generational renewal in farming.
The Spanish ministry of agriculture, fisheries and food has also formed a group of experts to analyse the situation of access to land, identified as one of the main problems in generational renewal.
The ministry has also launched a program, ‘Cultiva 2022’, with a budget of €1 million for the practical training of young farmers. (EFE.Agro)
Young farmers in line for €420 million boost. Young farmers in Greece represent 8.3% of the total farming community, according to the latest official data of the EU statistics office Eurostat, which shows that 30.8% of farmers in Greece are between 40 and 56 years old, while 33.5% are over 65 years old.
“The farms of young farmers have a relatively large physical and economic size. The majority of young farmers’ holdings belong to the economic category of €8,000 – €25,000,” the agriculture ministry told EURACTIV Greece.
The ministry explained that several initiatives have been taken with the aim to boost young farmers’ presence in the field.
Most notably are the measures of “significant financial and developmental importance”, such as “Training of Young Farmers,” but also public and private actions of the programme, ‘LEADER’.
The ministry emphasised that €420 million has been earmarked for the encouragement of young farmers into the industry.
“At the same time, the development of broadband infrastructure in areas where there is no internet access paves the way for the development of applications to serve, inter alia, citizens and businesses in their dealings with the state and the expansion of e-commerce, which can be another means of encouraging young entrepreneurship,” the ministry concluded. (Georgia-Evangelia Karagianni | EURACTIV.gr)
Future bit brighter for Italy’s next farming generation. The first report on young people in agriculture, published by the farmers’ association Coldiretti in September 2021, states that “the agricultural sector ranks in the top positions for new companies under 35 born in 2020 (over 6,000)”.
In Italy, there are over 55,000 agricultural and forestry companies led by young people which “represent 8% of the sector”, the document states, adding that in the last 5 years there has been an 8% growth in farms run by young people.
According to the most recent numbers reported by the Institute of Services for the Agricultural Food Market (ISMEA), in 2018 in Italy about 872,000 people were employed in the agriculture sector: 33.5% were between 15-40 years old, 60.5% between 41-65, and 6% belonged to over-66 age group.
In 2021, the Italian government approved a measure called ‘Più impresa’, which aims to finance the takeover and start-up operations of youth-run farms, through zero-rate mortgages and non-repayable contributions.
The plan guarantees to fund up to €1.5 million for development or income in the sectors of agricultural production, processing and marketing of agricultural products, and diversification of agricultural income.
The fund is intended for micro, small and medium-sized agricultural businesses managed by people aged between 18 and 40. The support consists of a non-repayable grant of up to 35% of eligible expenses and a zero-rate mortgage for the remainder, within the limits of 60% of the investment and with a maximum duration of 15 years.
Furthermore, from 2017 partial exemptions on the payment of pension contributions in favour of new agricultural entrepreneurs under 40 have been in force. (Daniele Lettig | EURACITV.it)
CAP plan places focus on new farmers. The average age of Polish farmers has gone up to 50.7 years, according to the preliminary results of the 2020 agricultural census. In comparison, in 2010 the average age of a farmer was 47.9 years, showing an increase of almost 3 years over the course of a decade.
Despite this, EU statistics from 2016 show that Polish farms have the second largest proportion of farm managers under 40 among EU member states.
The key program instituted to encourage new entrants into farming is ‘Young Farmer’ (Młody Rolnik), which will be expanded by the new CAP strategic plan for the years 2023-27.
Farmers under the age of 40, who came into possession of agricultural land of at least 1 hectare no earlier than 2 years before applying for the programme, can receive 200 thousand polish złoty (roughly €43,000).
Statistics from the government agency Statistics Poland show that the ageing of farmers has essentially halted from 2016 to 2020.
It is difficult to say, however, how big of a difference was made by the programme itself, as no assessments of its effects have been conducted or published by public institutions or reliable academic sources. (Jakub Krystek | EURACTIV.pl)
Difficulty in land access at the roots of farmers’ ageing. The Slovak agriculture workforce has been ageing consistently since the democratic revolution in 1989, as evidenced by its age structure. While in 1990 the average age of a Slovak farmer was 40 years, today it is almost 10 years more.
Workers aged 55 to 59 have the highest representation in the sector. On the contrary, in 2018 alone, 1,100 farmers aged 15 to 24 left the sector.
For years, young farmers have been drawing attention to the main reasons for the lack of generational exchange, number one of which is the difficulty in accessing land. This is because fragmentation of land ownership in Slovakia is among the highest in the EU.
They reported that it is also challenging to access bank loans due to a combination of poor credit history as well as the inadequate setting of subsidy support targeted at farmers starting their businesses.
In the current programming period, the Slovak ministry of agriculture has tried to attract young farmers mainly through start-up aid support, worth up to €50,000 per farm. However, the main association representing young farmers in Slovakia (ASYF) has been very critical about the setting of this support in the past.
This is because the ministry did not allocate sufficient money from the second pillar of the CAP this scheme, meaning only a fraction of young farmers received this support.
Speaking to EURACTIV Slovakia, ASYF President Milan Jurky expressed the hope that the Slovak CAP strategic plan – sent to the European Commission back in February – will improve the situation of young farmers.
ASYF welcomed the introduction of the announced cap of €100,000 on direct payments, redistributive payments and also the increase of direct payments for young farmers. While at the beginning of the last programming period the complementary payment for young farmers was €60 per hectare, from 2023 it will be €100.
“After reading the final version of the strategic plan, we are of the opinion that our farmers will be better off,” Jurky told EURACTIV Slovakia.
In the new programming period, the ministry of agriculture also intends to support young farmers with new financial instruments, previously not used in Slovakia’s rural development programme.
By providing bank guarantees, the government seeks to facilitate their access to credit, which they could use to finance the purchase of land and the necessary machinery. Slovakia plans to allocate €300 million to financial instruments, of which €36 million will be reserved exclusively for young farmers. (Marián Koreň | EURACTIV.sk)
State programmes have been unsuccessful at tackling generational renewal. The average age of farmers in Bulgaria is approximately 60 years, the chairman of the National Association of Young Farmers in Bulgaria Petar Petrov told EURACTIV.
In Bulgaria, the state is trying to attract young people to agriculture by increasing subsidies per acre of arable land by 50% for the first 5 years of entering the industry.
Every farmer under the age of 40 in Bulgaria is considered young. However, it seems these incentives are not working well so far as the average age of farmers in the country is not decreasing.
“We missed our opportunity to do something sustainable a long time ago. Family farms need to be helped to keep the children of older farmers in the agricultural sector, but there are no programs for targeted support for family farming, “said Petrov, who is himself an example of a successful young farmer in Bulgaria, managing both a guest house and a relatively large farm of dairy cows and sheep.
He says that the subsidies programme for young farmers is too often used to divert Bulgarian and EU funding, rather than for something useful.
For example, sometimes companies of young farmers are registered, but the real owners are different and the only goal is a higher subsidy, he explained to EURACTIV. So far, there is no known large-scale investigation by the Bulgarian prosecutor’s office into this criminal scheme.
The Association of Young Farmers from Bulgaria cannot yet cite an example of a successful state programme that has led to good results.
“We have good examples of successful young farmers, but they are exceptions rather than a product of the environment in Bulgaria,” said Petrov, who is a zoo engineer by training. According to him, Bulgaria should invest much more in the quality education of professionals in the agricultural sector. (Krassen Nikolov | EURACTIV.bg).
According to the register of farmers and agency for payments in agriculture, as of March 31, 2022, 170,450 farmers were registered in the Republic of Croatia, with the number of farmers increased by 15% compared to 2015, most of which (81.6%) are family farms.
However, the majority of farmers (52.2%) are older than 60 years, while young farmers up to 41 years of age make up only 14.3% of the total number of farmers.
For the development of a modern and competitive agricultural sector, the Croatian government considers it is necessary to increase the share of young farmers, contribute to generational renewal in agriculture and reduce the negative migration trend in rural areas.
It has taken a number of measures in order to do so, including a project offering 10,000 kunas (€1,321) scholarships for senior students of agricultural specialisms at universities, polytechnics and colleges in Slavonia, Baranja and Srijem. This scholarship project will continue in the next academic year 2022/2023.
Meanwhile, a total of 100,623,803 kuna (€13,301,230) was paid to young farmers over the past CAP period, 20.25% of the total amount paid within the implementation of financial instruments of the Rural Development Program of the Republic of Croatia 2014-2020. (Zeljko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
A change for young farmer grants. Romania is the EU country with the largest part of the population working in agriculture, with more than one in five persons employed on a farm.
While the rural population has dwindled over the past couple of decades, most of the people working in agriculture are older. Almost half of the farmers are aged 65 or more, according to Eurostat data.
They are mostly working on their own farms, and have no formal education in agricultural sciences. This means that most farmers are subsistence and semi-subsistence farms.
Meanwhile, professional farms have trouble finding skilled workers and programmes to attract young people to the farming sector have largely misfired.
Like most EU countries, Romania has offered grants to young farmers to set up new agricultural holdings, but not all of them were successful once the funds dried up. The authorities plan to keep the support for young farmers and attract new farmers, but the process of granting the funds could change.
”We do not want to attract numbers, but performance,” agriculture minister Adrian Chesnoiu told EURACTIV. “We will no longer finance just based on meeting the eligibility conditions, but on performance and business efficiency criteria,” Chesnoiu said.
According to the latest available data, the percentage of young farmers (younger than 35 years) is considerably lower than the EU average (3.1% in Romania, vs 5.1% in the EU), according to the national CAP plan. (Bogdan Neagu | EURACTIV.ro)
[Edited by Natasha Foote/Gerardo Fortuna/Nathalie Weatherald]