This new report from the Access to Land group of EU farming organisations (funded by Erasmus) explores the difficulties and opportunities for new farmers.
Here’s the introduction to the report:
European farmers are a greying population. More than half of European farmers will retire within 10 years, while only 7% are under the age of 35. Many senior farmers have no successors in their family, and have no identified successor outside of it. The question of who is going to be the next generation of European farmers is a very pressing one. Who will grow our food? Who will sustain rural economies and communities? Who will maintain open landscapes for everybody to enjoy?
There is also a major challenge in ensuring both the continuity and the necessary evolutions between the generations of farmers. How to avoid losing preciously developed soil quality and know-how held by the current generation of passionate farmers? And how to allow new farmers to develop more agroecological forms of farming?
Within the new generation of farmers, most new farmers are direct successors, also called “continuers”, i.e. young people taking over the family farm. But intra-family farm succession—which for centuries has been the dominant form of entry into farming in
Europe—is losing ground. Increasingly, the children of farmers opt for other careers, as many view farming as a profession requiring considerable working time and hard physical labour while earning little income and receiving little public recognition.
On the other hand, on the ground, a growing number of people are seeking to enter farming, without a family farm and sometimes even without prior experience with farming. These new farmers may be defined as “newcomers” to farming, or ex novo
new entrants. Many of them turn towards agroecological forms of farming and favour innovation—organic farming, short supply chains, community-supported agriculture, and on-farm food processing— which increase on-farm added value, while contributing to local
quality food, jobs and environmental protection. The exact number and potential of these newcomers is not well-known, as only a few countries have collected data and conducted studies about them.
It is also recognised that there is more of a continuum than a divide between continuers and newcomers. Many newcomers indeed have some connection with farming, through relatives, a rural background, on-farm experience, etc., while some continuers may
decide to continue farming but not take on the family farm, or to transform it radically (e.g. from a specialised farm to mixed farming, or from conventional to organic).
Our organisations are grassroots groups working to facilitate farm succession and entry of a new generation in a number of ways:
——training and advising young farmers and aspiring farmers,
——advising senior farmers and landowners to facilitate farm transmission,
——acquiring farms in order to make them available to new entrants, especially newcomers, under favourable terms,
——advocating for the preservation of existing farms and their transfer to a new generation,
——advocating for better support mechanisms for new entrants and progressive entry into farming.
Our vision is that of a Europe with multiple farms, farmers and local food systems, making European food and farming systems more resilient, creating jobs and activities in the countryside, providing safe, high-quality food, preserving the environment and
contributing to lively rural communities.
Our daily experience in advising and supporting new farmers, particularly newcomers, highlights the considerable hurdle of accessing land for farming. Access to land is now widely recognised as the number one obstacle to entering farming in Europe. Yet, the situation remains little-known and little-studied. Moreover, most public policies supporting new entrants, at the local, national and European level, are conceived for continuers and fail to address the specific needs and challenges of newcomers. And most agricultural policies give little consideration to land market regulations and specific mechanisms to facilitate access to land for new farmers.
This report aims to share our experience and analyses of the situation for new farmers and their access to land in our countries. It also presents a number of new farmers, to highlight their diverse backgrounds, difficulties and pathways into farming. All of these portraits also emphasise their enthusiasm, innovativeness and dedication to becoming a farmer. They also illustrate various ways in which they access land, often with the support of farmers’ organisations or various civil society movements. Based on these country studies and new farmers’ portraits, we then attempt to present an overview and characterise these novel ways to access land for farming. The report ends with an exploration of farm
incubators, which constitute one of the growing innovations to help new farmers (particularly newcomers) enter farming, including by providing start-up access to a plot of land.