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The Challenges of Young Farmers in the European Agricultural Sector: A Discussion with CEJA

What are the challenges faced by young farmers and how is the European Council of Young Farmers helping to overcome them?

The European Council of Young Farmers (CEJA) is an organization that strives to improve the working and living conditions of young people in the agricultural sector. Representing 33 member organizations across Europe, CEJA focuses on reducing barriers for young farmers in terms of accessing land and financing, increasing knowledge and education, improving income, enhancing the attractiveness of rural areas, and promoting sustainability in European agriculture.

We had the pleasure to talk to CEJA's Secretary General Marion Picot and Communications Officer Remark Temali discussing the key challenges that young farmers in Europe are facing. It was an interesting conversation, discussing the impact of policies at the local level, to learn how frameworks such as the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) can shape the agriculture sector for future generations.

CEJA is working on these topics, making sure that the voice of young farmers is taken into account. One of the main challenges that CEJA faces is the lack of data on the agricultural sector and young people. This problem has a ripple effect as it creates distortions in policy-making and evaluation. According to the data available to the European Commission, only 11% of all farm holdings in the European Union are run by farmers under 40.

Young farmers still face significant obstacles to getting the right amount of funding needed to start and sustain an agricultural business. In general, banks are hesitant to loan money to young people entering the field, mostly because there are a lot of risks associated with this type of investment and the returns are often far in time and not that attractive in quantity. This is mainly due to the fact that the cost of production in the agricultural sector, especially at the beginning of a business, is really high, while the return on products sold is low. One of the CAP aims is to address the high cost and capital-intensive nature of farming and agriculture, but with rising costs and inflation, it’s never enough.

“The first barriers for young farmers are: access to land, which is the primary tool for working for them, access to investments into the farm and so how to get the finances needed to create a farm as it is a very capital intensive sector. It's very difficult to buy land, machinery, and working tools in general. A second barrier that we could identify is the one related to knowledge and education. In fact, in our society now over 60% of the farming population only relies on practical experience at the farm level and there are only a few channels to pass on these practices to future generations.“

Another factor raising costs for farmers is the disorganisation of the agricultural sector. In fact, non-organized farmers are facing well-organised negotiators when it comes to price negotiations, with purchasing centres and the processing industry, exploiting this power imbalance in their favour.

The rise in sustainability standards also leads to higher costs and the support provided is not enough. However, young farmers are fundamentally important when it comes to offsetting the negative impacts of climate change. Indeed, as explained by the Secretary General of CEJA, young farmers are the ones that would want to implement sustainable agricultural practices but are also the ones who can least afford to put them in place.

“When you are about to retire, you're not going to invest so much money into your farm because, you know, that you have to ensure your pension as well. Young people are actually the ones making the most investment, they are new in the sector and so they look at the state of innovation, they look at the state of research, they know what's the most appropriate practice, they know what's more sustainable and they can engage the investment in it. So this is something that goes pretty much hand in hand with the sustainability agenda. The objective is climate neutrality, A lot of young farmers are involved into practices of climate mitigation: agriculture can actually decrease emissions overall!”

To tackle these challenges, the CAP provides support to young farmers through the installation aid program, which offers up to 100,000 euros to help with start-up costs. The reform of the CAP has aimed to increase the accessibility of installation aid and investment support for young farmers. The future goal of the CAP is to increase the sense of community among farmers and make the sector more attractive to young people.

But according to CEJA, the difficulties do not stop there. Young people are increasingly pursuing educational opportunities elsewhere. CEJA says that, to prevent that, there is a need to remunerate farmers not only for the products they produce but also for the services they provide to society such as water management, agroforestry, and climate mitigation. The combination of both a strong rural sector and developed rural communities will be the foundation of a secure sustainable future.