The number of young people who want to work in agriculture is shrinking. Those who choose farming in Germany have to put up with high acquisition costs, complicated bureaucratic requirements and a modest income. EURACTIV Germany reports.
The agricultural sector is failing to adapt to the new generation. Many young people are deterred by a job description that promises long, hard working hours, constant change and no fixed income.
Only 11% of all farmers in the EU are under the age of 40, according to Eurostat’s statistics for 2016.
Johanna Buntz is one of the young Germans who dared to become a farmer.
It was not easy to take over her parents’ 110-hectare pig farm in the Swabian Jura where she grew up. However, over the last 20 years, the business has become increasingly unprofitable and production needed to be further expanded, simply to maintain an income.
The butcher’s shop to which they delivered their meat stopped purchasing it because it was too expensive compared to the price of the competition.
Since her three sisters took other career paths, Buntz decided to take over her parents’ business after graduating from high school.
In an interview on the sidelines of an agricultural conference in Berlin on Tuesday (4 June), Buntz told EURACTIV that her parents had never pressured her.
Buntz studied agricultural marketing and management to learn how to ensure her products are more valuable. While she was still studying, she decided to give up on pig farming and transitioned to organic farming.
The young farmer attached particular importance to sustainability and species-appropriate livestock breeding. Buntz also made this transition because “hens are easier for women to handle than pigs, who weigh 120 kilos”.
Currently, she manages the farm with her mother but in a few years Buntz will take over completely. This situation is exceptional given that just under 10% of all German farms are run by women and 64% of the total agricultural workforce are men, according to the German Ministry of Agriculture.
Buntz says she has not experienced any disadvantages or discrimination as a woman. Only once did a man stop and take a picture of her driving a tractor.
Taking over farms is expensive
When farms are taken over, many young farmers are faced with having to make expensive investments. Buntz also had to invest a lot of money in the company’s transition with an investment plan designed for twenty years.
To encourage young people to be farmers, the EU offers subsidies to farmers under 35. In addition to the regular direct payments, young farmers receive an additional €44 per hectare. In Germany, this means that nearly €48 million will be going to young farmers this year.
However, what sounds like a lot only amounts to 1% of the direct payments Germany already receives from the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) fund.
The European Council of Young Farmers (CEJA) is, therefore, calling for 4% of the CAP fund to be reserved for young farmers in the next CAP budget.
Grants for investments made on the farm can amount to 30%. But most of the money would be going into new technologies, according to Martin Häusling, the Greens/EFA agricultural spokesperson in the European Parliament.
There needs to be more support and, above all, new ideas should be promoted, according to Häusling.
“For example, if a young person comes up with a good marketing concept but it is deemed too risky for the bank, the EU needs to step in,” Häusling told EURACTIV.
In addition to high investment sums, Buntz has also been struggling with all the requirements farmers have to comply with, which can become confusing and complex.
Fertiliser regulations, country-specific environmental programmes and water protection programmes that differ according to the region, are connected. The obligatory crop rotation planning programme is also difficult to get to grips with if one wants to consider all legal requirements, biological connections and economic aspects, she said.
An abundance of guidelines and dependence on subsidies
In any case, Buntz is critical of the lack of freedom of choice.
“Politicians set the targets and we, farmers, are like the puppets that carry them out. Our room for manoeuvre is becoming increasingly limited,” she said.
The financial dependence on CAP subsidies also makes farmers uncomfortable. “It annoys me that most of our income comes from the state, without which we would not even be able to exist. We benefit from these subsidies. Why can I not see my products being appreciated by making more profit?” she added.
The problem could only be solved if value chains were shortened, without the processing and retail industry receiving a big part of the profits made from agricultural products.
For this to happen, prices would have to increase. But Buntz complained that more could be done to ensure customers are willing to pay for sustainably and organically produced food.
MEP Häusling had no sympathy for such an argument. “As long as our society is prepared to throw away 30% of our food, the few extra cents are not a valid argument,” he said.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]