Farming’s ageing and negativity problem

A farmer carries a goose as members of Association of private farming of the Czech Republic show support to Jiri Drahos before the upcoming second round of the Presidential Elections in Prague, Czech Republic, 25 January 2018. [Martin Divisek/EPA/EFE]

Agriculture still has to face up to the fact that farmers are ageing and young farmers are not interested. The cause rests in the limited access to land, migration from the countryside to urban areas and the negative media image imposed on agriculture. EURACTIV Czech Republic reports.

Generational renewal is indeed difficult but very important if the agricultural sector is to be maintained.

Experts agree that support provided to family farms helps to keep descendants of farmers on the farms. For making agriculture more attractive it is also important to develop new technologies, support agricultural education and to focus on positive media presentation of agriculture.

“Society should be proud of its farmers because they take care of food security, of nature, water, land as well as air. Last but not least they maintain the countryside viable,” stressed the importance of agriculture Jiri Felcarek from the Agrarian Chamber of the Czech Republic.

Statistics are not boring, especially those on agriculture

In the EU agriculture sector, 22.2 million people work on 10.3 million farms. While the average age of farmers was 49.2 years in 2004, it was 51.4 years in 2014. Nevertheless, it is not just a European trend. The average age of famers in the US is 58.3 years.

Young famers are simply missing. According to data of the European Commission released in October 2017, only 5.6% of young farmers live in the EU. However, there are differences among the 28 member states.

In Romania, where the number of farms and farmers is very high compared to other European countries, farmers at age 65 or older account for half of farm population. Portugal experiences similarly. But on farms in Germany, Austria and Poland only 10% of farmers are older than 65 years.

Another country with many young farmers is Luxembourg and also Denmark where young people make up almost half of the agricultural workforce. On the opposite side, there is Portugal with only 14% of young farmers.

Land and business plan for young farmers

A lack of young farmers can limit EU competitiveness and food production in the future.

The reason attributed to unattractive agriculture lies in hard working conditions, low income, long working hours and restricted access to land and investments, a European Parliament study found.

These problems are set to be addressed in the post-2020 CAP – at least Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Phil Hogan hopes so.

Another one of the countries facing the ageing issue is the Czech Republic, where young people do not have access to the farm land.

“The government should open a competition to young farmers for lease of land. After ten years they should be able to buy it,” recommended vice-president of the The Young Agrarians´ Society of the Czech Republic (YAS ČR) Milan Douša and member of the YAS ČR presidium Jan Štefek.

There is also the issue of lack of proper business plan or, sometimes, complete absence of any business planning.

“Young farmers should write down their business plan in advance reflecting what they will do, what land they will work on and live on, for whom they will work and for what price they will produce or deliver. It is also important not to undercut competitive pressure and choose appropriately what technology they intend to buy for farming,” representatives from the YAS CR explained.

Moreover, in some cases young farmers prefer to rent than purchase their own land. For instance, in Slovakia 95% of farms are rented. In Ireland, on the contrary, only 20% of land is rented. In the Czech Republic, the number of land owners is increasing.

Media should present agriculture in a positive image

The YAS ČR considers a change of view on agriculture as the only answer and solution leading to ensuring generation renewal.

“The key in ensuring generation change is a creation of the idealistic look imagining free life of farmers who are beneficial for the world. It could even attract new people from non-agricultural sector,” said Dousa and Stefek.

The public should be aware of the agricultural funds but also about its other aspects. According to YAS ČR agricultural fairs and media should present the sector positively – as “functional, sustainable and committed agriculture”.

Felcarek from the Agrarian Chamber of the Czech Republic similarly thinks that agriculture should be presented to the public “as a modern and attractive sector equipped the most advanced technologies that has something to offer.”

The way of presentation can be varied, for instance through events on farms. Nevertheless, the first step should come at primary and secondary schools as well as at universities.

Other solutions

Both the YAS ČR and the Association of Private Farming of the Czech Republic (the APF CR) further mention a support for family farms as another solution encouraging the transition between old and young generation.

The number of family businesses decrease including the proportion of young famers living on family farms. On the contrary the number of farm newcomers increase.

“Just since the young generation grows up on family farms, the agricultural work and rural life is native for them. They enjoy it because they don´t consider it like a job but like an overall lifestyle,” described Šárka Gorgoňová, the APF head of media department.

The APF also participated in the project “Farm Success” that was co-financed by the programme Erasmus+. From 2016 to 2018, it has dealt with the question of how to ensure a transition between farm generations. Together with the APF there were partners from Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Slovenia and Spain.

“Each country selected six farms that shared their experiences with a generational exchange. Such stories were subsequently processed to case studies,” Gorgoňová specified the project.

“According to us the project met expectations. It was very interesting to compare specific examples of individual farms and processes of transferring farmer´s generations that are in many ways similar.”

Financing for young farmers

Famers who are 40 years old or less and start a farm business can ask for the EU grant. Within the CAP there are two types of grants for them – from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and from the European Agricultural Guarantee Fund primarily financing direct payments to farmers. They can also get an additional finance from the other subsidy programmes.

The recent proposal of the Common Agricultural policy for the period after 2020 presumes a continuous support devoted to young farmers. The proposal requires the member states to give 2% of direct payments for young farmers. Doing so should improve living standards of farmers and rural communities.

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