This article is part of our special report Young people and women in EU farming.
EU member states will have to deal with the generational renewal of the EU farming sector “whether they like it or not,” young farmers say. And to do so, they first need to support a strong budget for the post-2020 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), they argue.
“As generational renewal is one of the CAP’s nine objectives, member states will be obliged to tackle this issue whether they like it or not,” Jannes Maes, president of the EU young farmers’ association (CEJA), told EURACTIV.com.
The EU farming sector is faced with an ageing population. If this trend continues, it will put the long-term sustainability of the sector at risk, critics warn.
In 2016 only 11% of farm managers in the EU were young farmers under the age of 40 years, according to official data from Eurostat, the EU statistical agency.
Austria has the highest proportion of young farmers (22.2%) followed by Poland (20.3%) and Slovakia (19.0%). On the other hand, Cyprus (3.3% of all farm managers), Portugal (4.2%) and the UK (5.3%) have the lowest share of young farmers.
The European Commission’s proposals for the post-2020 has nine objectives, one of which is to encourage young people to join the sector.
In particular, the EU executive proposed that a minimum of 2% of direct payments allocated to each EU country (Pillar 1) should be set aside for young farmers, complemented by financial support under rural development objectives and measures facilitating access to land and land transfers.
Maes welcomed the Commission’s intention to prioritise young people in its proposals. However, he insisted that the proposed measures did not reflect this objective strongly enough.
“2% of ring-fencing in Pillar 1 simply won’t be sufficient to ensure generational renewal in agriculture takes place,” he said. “As CEJA, we’re pushing for the ring-fencing of 4% of funds in Pillar 1, as well as other measures,” he added.
A big question is the future CAP budget. The European Commission proposed a significant cut in farm spending, saying the EU needed to use scarce financial resources to tackle new challenges such as security. The EU executive said it was up to the member states to fulfill this financial gap by increasing their national contributions to the CAP.
But many member states are reluctant to do so. France together with Greece, Spain, Ireland, Portugal and Finland, signed a joint declaration expressing their disappointment over the reduced CAP budget.
These countries argue that the CAP budget should be maintained (in real terms) at least at the same level as the current one also beyond 2020.
Cyprus and Bulgaria also joined this group of countries at a later stage.
“We want to raise the alarm about the sustainability of European agriculture. We believe that if we do not achieve a proper balance between resources and obligations, then the future of the EU agriculture and countryside will be uncertain,” Greek agriculture minister Stavros Arachovitis recently told EURACTIV.com in an interview.
Europe’s young farmers share a similar view. They believe that the continuation of the EU’s agricultural sector can only be ensured by creating specific measures for young farmers.
“But this relies on member states being willing to contribute sufficiently to the common budget,” Maes said.
If the EU wants to fulfill all of the CAP’s other objectives, then generational renewal in the sector will appear as a given, Maes argued.
“As this is not currently the case, it will be important that member states are held to account, which is why having relevant and precise indicators, to measure how many young people enter and remain in the sector is crucial.”
The battle over the EU’s next long-term budget for 2021-2027 – the so-called Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) – will provide evidence when it comes to making “bold decisions,” he said.
“A good MFF budget for 2021-2027 is key to ensuring the strength of the future CAP. Via a strong CAP, we can then support active farmers in dealing with the different challenges they face, whether they’re social, environmental or economic,” he said.