Agriculture and rural development
European measures in favour of young farmers
by Veronika Veits (*)
The reinforced application of Community and national measures is indispensable to keep young people in rural areas, to facilitate their start-up in farming and to enable them to actively contribute to the development of their area.
Insecurity, hard working conditions for an uncertain income, the profession of farmer is no longer attractive. The phenomenon is not recent, and farming today is an ageing sector: only 8.3% of those at the head of holdings are under 35 whereas nearly one active farmer out of four is over 65.
Ageing, farming is also an activity undergoing change, and the farmer, if he has to be correctly trained in order to face the increased demands of competitiveness, must be versatile. In fact today's farmer is just as much a producer of foodstuffs, technician, producer of renewable materials as he is a "guardian" of the environment and manager of the area.
Considering that young people are an essential dynamic element for the agricultural sector but also more generally for rural areas, the European Union has gradually introduced a series of instruments to support young farmers.
Among these instruments, particular attention should be drawn to start-up and investment aids intended to make it easier for young farmers to take over farms and from which over 25 000 young farmers benefit each year. The Community system of early retirement should also help rejuvenate the agricultural sector. Furthermore, particular emphasis is being placed on training, and the young people taking over farms can benefit from specific aid for this purpose. Similarly, young farmers can participate in other Community training programmes such as "Leonardo da Vinci" or "Youth for Europe". Finally, various actions are being set up on a decentralised basis in the framework of the programmes of the Structural Funds for the regions of Objectives 1, 5b and 6 or in the framework of the Community Initiative LEADER.
This Initiative in effect offers young farmers various possibilities not only to valorise their production (farmhouse products, etc.) or to participate in the preservation and enhancement of the environment but also to develop complementary activities (agri-tourism, etc.) and to play an active role in the development of their area.
If the various existing European instruments (1) constitute an appropriate framework of action, a reinforced application of the measures is essential to keep young people in rural areas and to make it easier for them to go into farming. That is in particular one of the main recommendations of the Commission's report on "Young farmers and the problem of taking over farms in European agriculture" (COM (96) 398 final). The Commission is also making another recommendation: it is inviting Member States to adapt the current national measures on the taxation of transfers and inheritances to facilitate the access of young farmers to the sector.
The report, which provides an overview of the various Community instruments for young farmers, has raised the awareness of political decisionmakers of the situation of young farmers. It is therefore not a final point but an intermediate phase in the debate on the place and role of young farmers not only in agriculture but, in a wider sense, in rural areas and on the means that these young farmers have at their disposal to actively contribute to the socio-economic development of their area.
(1) the "Community Actions and Rural Development" directory published by the LEADER European Observatory presents all of these instruments in the form of concise factsheets.
(*) Administrator at the Directorate-General for Agriculture of the European Commission (DG VI/FII.1).
source: LEADER Magazine nr.15 - Summer 1997