This article is part of our special report Generational renewal in agriculture.
The number of young people entering the agriculture sector is increasing, but there are many problems to be addressed. Networking is a good way to overcome them. EURACTIV’s partner Agronotizie reports.
Young Italians also dream of becoming farmers, not just football players and top models. Numbers are clear: with over 55,000 farms led by under-35s, Italy ranks first in Europe for employing young people in the agriculture sector, who range from farmers’ children who inherited to young people who, for the love of nature, embarked on the adventure.
According to data from Coldiretti, the main Italian farmer association, young farmers are familiar with new technologies, are used to travel and have a particular focus on environmental and social protection. One of four young farmers is a woman with a degree.
However, there is a big difference between farmers, who decide to start a new business and those that inherit the land from their family, which are in the majority. The first Group Co of people with heterogeneous qualifications; they have a business plan and clear ideas.
The main obstacle is access to credit. In Sardinia, the price of one hectare of land is around €17,000 and in Liguria it is €108,000, meaning that in a place like the Langhe, one hectare of vineyard can cost millions. But the funds made available by the EU and the Italian government often make the problem less insurmountable.
The role of education
According to Coldiretti, this year, 22,000 young people under-40 applied for the ‘first settlement subsidy’ in Southern Italy but 78% of the applications were not accepted due to administrative delays.
Therefore, the risk is that the EU funds linked to the 2014-2020 rural development programmes will go back to Brussels.
“An enormous damage to a territory that is already in difficulty” denounces Confagricoltura, the other big farmer association, which blames bureaucracy and the regional administrations.
Most of the youngsters who study agriculture, however, are sons and daughters of farmers, who will one day inherit the family business. In the 2017-2018 school year, 45,566 young people chose to take an academic course in agriculture.
According to the survey carried out among students by AgroInnovation EDU (an educational program sponsored by Image Line), it is clear that modern farmers will need weather stations (52.1%), web apps for managing field operations (51.1%), GPS (47%) and sensors (45.1%), as well as search engines for crop protection products and fertilisers (39.4%), drones (33.7%) and robots (10.5%).
However, is not easy to complete this generational change. “Young farmers nowadays are on their own and very often, even if prepared from an academic point of view, they are not able to make the difference in the company. In the end, it is the elderly father who decides, even if the son is the owner on paper,” Giuseppe Savino, founder of VàZapp’, told AgroNotizie.
The importance of networking
VàZapp’ is an association of farmers created in Puglia, in the South of Italy. The association allows farmers to meet, exchange and share good practices.
The idea for the association came from Giuseppe Savino and Don Michele De Paolis, a priest, who died at 93. Both saw the land as a source of work and not as a cause of emigration to the North.
“First of all, we listen. I myself am a farmer and I know that farmers today feel alone and unheard. This is why we invented the ‘Contadinner’. It is basically dinners organised at the farmers home, where everyone is free to exchange ideas, problems and visions”, explained Savino.
The key is to network. For small farmers, creating communities is necessary to survive. It means sharing good agronomic practices, but also equipment. For example, why should one farmer cover the costs of a tractor when these can be shared with a neighbouring farmer? And by sharing the tractor, a centralised warehouse could be used to prevent theft.
“Young farmers have a different attitude, and they would like to change the way they do farming, but often they don’t know-how. They feel isolated,” Savino confided. The founder of VàZapp took over the family business, which produces cereals, grapes and olive oil in Foggia, Puglia.
According to VàZapp’s vision, farmers are not just the people who feed humanity every day; they can also be therapists.
“Citizens flee to the countryside to seek beauty, tranquillity, a slower pace of life. Farmers can become custodians of the landscape and create those relationships that all people need,” he added. After the human connection, an economic one flourishes, which then translates in the direct sale of the products of the earth.
Finally, what could also attract young people to the countryside, are experiences. Today thousands of people go to the countryside to participate in the grape or olive harvest and the cheese preparation. In the new millennium, food is no longer good to satisfy a primary need, but a source of experiences capable of nourishing the soul.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic, Daniel Eck]