This article is part of our special report Generational renewal in agriculture.
In Spain and across the European Union, more than 90% of farmers are close to the retirement age, meaning that the problem of generational renewal poses a serious problem. Finding a solution depends on the combination of a magical triangle: access to land, profitability and passion for the countryside. EURACTIV’s partner EFEAGRO reports.
To make agriculture attractive to young people again, it would be essential to combine factors, including the inheritance of family business, the facilitation of establishing an agri-business, securing fair prices and public aid (among them, subsidies of the CAP), as well as a great deal of passion for the primary sector, experts told EFE Agro.
In 2015, according to the final results of a survey conducted for the European Commission (among more than 2,000 farmers under-40), access to land was a “considerable” concern.
It is “very difficult” for “someone who does not inherit (a farm, for example) or does not have production elements to start an agricultural activity”, stressed Agustín Herrero, the general director at Cooperativas Agro-Alimentarias de España. The situation has considerably deteriorated with the current situation of low profitability, he says.
Profitabilty, an essential factor
After graduating in Environmental Sciences, farmer Juan Escribano (35) returned to his hometown, Villanueva de Córdoba (Andalusia, south), to take over the family livestock farm and the local ham marketing company.
“Starting this activity from scratch was very complicated. If you don’t already have the fundamentals, it is almost impossible”, he told EFE Agro.
Profitability is essential to move forward and the agricultural sector is not an exception to that universal rule of the economy.
Farmer Agustín Herrero stressed that the first measure and “perhaps the most difficult” to ensure a generational renewal in the agricultural sector is to meet the basic conditions that would allow farmers to make a living out of the countryside.
“Nobody considers building a life in an area that has a scarce production, which makes it almost impossible to live in”, he stressed.
Is the help from the CAP enough?
The big challenge -he says- is to ensure the food chain generates enough value and is distributed fairly, and also to have key national and community regulatory measures.
“Without [financial] help, [agriculture] is not profitable,” according to Pilar Mateos, a farmer in Argamasilla de Alba (Ciudad Real, centre of Spain), adding that many agrifood products are “worth little”.
Mateos thinks that financial help from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is essential, but also criticised the “small amounts” that come with this EU aid. It is “not enough” -in many cases- to keep a good standard of living.
A passion for agriculture is also an essential part of the “virtuous circle”, Escribano said.
Escribano and Mateos share the same passion for agriculture and agrifood production. For both, livestock, vineyards and olive trees form a key part of their daily life’s landscape.
Thanks to their devotion to agriculture, the heavy burden of their daily work feels slightly lighter. “I enjoy being in the countryside, it is a way of conciliation between work and family life.”
“I often take my two children with me, so they can have direct contact with animals,” Escribano explained.
Cooperatives are key when it comes to facilitating the daily work, face difficulties and curb market crises in the agricultural sector.
The importance of cooperatives for the sector
Cooperatives and associations of farmers are an example of deep-rooted union in the agricultural sector and help overcome the lack of young people that severely impacts the sector, according to the general director of Agro-food Cooperatives.
Pilar Mateos is conscious of how supportive the Federation of Women and Families of the Rural Area (Amfar, in Spanish) continues to be for the sector. Amfar, she told EFE Agro, guided her in the implementation of agricultural programmes and provided her with valuable information on financial help for the agricultural sector in Spain.
Juan Escribano, head of the livestock sector in the Agroganadera Fair of the Valley of the Pedroches, also appreciates the importance of cooperatives.
The Agroganadera Fair of the Valley of the Pedroches is a Spanish consortium of public and private entities. Every year, the consortium joins join efforts to highlight the value of the primary sector for the local economy.
The EU’s agricultural sector needs young people to secure its future, which should be based on a more sustainable, healthy and safe food production.
The challenge is to achieve the formula that perfectly combines these stimuli, which enable access to land, profitability and passion to make European agriculture shine again.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic, Daniel Eck]