This article is part of our special report Generational renewal in agriculture.
Between the challenge of accessing land and the cost of transferring ownership of farms, young French farmers are struggling to establish themselves as farmers. The question is, will the next generation of farmers be able to take up the baton in France? EURACTIV France reports.
Nowadays, only one in five farmers in France are under 40 years old. Although there has been between 13,000 to 15,000 new-comers to the profession over the past ten years, they are far too few to compensate for the retirement of nearly one in two farmers by 2026.
“If this trend continues, nearly two-thirds of farmers will not be replaced,” warned Loïc Quellec, vice-president of the Young Farmers association in charge of generational renewal.
As a result, the number of active farmers is rapidly decreasing at a rate of 1.5% to 2% per year.
In 2018, there were 448,500 active farmers compared to 514,000 ten years earlier, according to the figures of the Mutualité Sociale Agricole (MSA), France’s social protection regime for those employed in the agricultural sector.
Agricultural land at risk?
The younger generations’ lack of enthusiasm for agriculture is due to a combination of factors.
One of the main problems is that the current discourse about the agricultural world does not encourage young people to seek careers in the sector. This means that is it becoming increasingly uncommon for young farmers to take over the family farm.
“It is no longer automatic for one of the children to take over the business,” confirmed Loïc Quellec. “Fortunately, there is a growing number of farms being run by non-farming families, as the children of farmers alone cannot ensure the renewal of generations,” he added.
The hardships that come with the job, including low incomes, discourage young people from pursuing a career in farming.
According to a study by the MSA, the average income of farmers is around €1,250 per month. But one-third of the farmers earn less than 350 euros per month.
“For young people to move into this profession, we must first work to change this idea that farming is an unprofitable profession. While it is true that there are complicated cases, there are also farmers who earn their living,” recalled Loïc Quellec.
To facilitate the transfer of farms outside the family, France’s Chambers of Agriculture have, for example, created “transferor-takeover” (“cédant-repreneur”) meeting days. It is in this context that Jacky Tillier, a farmer of 80 Charolais cows who did not have a willing family member to leave the farm to, was able to find a young farmer to take over his farm.
“My fear was that the land I was working would end up being split up for various expansions and that no one would be interested in the buildings. My family had been living there since 1928 and it would have been emotionally painful for me to see it disappear,” he explained.
The challenges of transferring farms
While it is difficult to find new land, transferring farms within the family can also prove challenging.
“ When you are a farmer’s child, you might think that setting up a farm would be easier because there is access to land. But in practice, this is not always the case,” explained the representative of the Young Farmers’ association.
Farmers often rent their land, and thus cannot ensure the transfer of agricultural leases to their children.
Furthermore, land speculation sometimes hinders the availability of agricultural land.
“When I settled down, it took me six years to find a plot to build my stable and store hay because I am located in a very touristic region, the Alpes de Haute Provence. As a result, owners are reluctant to allow agricultural construction on a plot of land because they hope it will become constructible,” said the young farmer.
To support young buyers, several support structures exist, such as support for the installation and transfer for young farmers, or the exemption from inheritance tax when agricultural holdings are donated free of charge.
Mission for the CAP?
To ensure that young farmers are supported and that the future of France’s agriculture is safeguarded, the future Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will have “an enormous role to play”, explained Loïc Quellec.
Today, the proposal for a future CAP foresees that 2% of the national budget be allocated to the installation of young farmers.
But at the same time, the age threshold for receiving the Natural Disabilities Compensatory Allowance (ICHN), which was intended for people under the age of 65, was abolished by Brussels as it was considered discriminatory.
This aid, which aims to support farmers in areas where production conditions are more difficult than elsewhere, therefore continues to be paid to farmers of retirement age, to the detriment of the youngest ones.
“Some farmers do not retire because direct payments are more advantageous than retirement,” Loïc Quellec concluded.
[Edited by Natasha Foote]