Faced with an ageing farming population, the European Union (EU) is stepping up its efforts to encourage young people to take up the baton. Young farmers are given a helping hand to get their business off the ground with start-up grants and other financial and practical support such as trainings. Supporting the next generation of European farmers not only enhances the future competitiveness of European agriculture, it also helps guarantee Europe's food supplies for years to come.
The modern farm is a dynamic workplace, often using innovative technology such as milking robots or irrigation via mobile phones. Yet only 6% of all farm holdings in Europe are run by farmers under 35 – and getting more young people interested in farming is a big challenge!
Helping young people to become farmers
That is why the EU has a number of programmes designed to encourage young people to become the next generation of European farmers.
For example, funding is available through the EU's common agricultural policy to help young farmers set up and develop their business. Support is available for farmers starting up businesses who are 40 or under at the time of applying, and can be granted for up to five years.
Young farmers are encouraged by additional support from the CAP's direct payments: national authorities have to set aside up to 2% of their total allocation of direct payment funding in order to offer young farmers a bonus of 25% (maximum) on their direct payments in their first five years of working in the sector. Young farmers also have priority when it comes to receiving direct payment funding from the national/regional reserve.
In addition, CAP rural development programmes (RDP) in each EU country often provide additional measures to help young farmers get started. This includes advice services for farmers setting up for the first time. See how one young Hungarian farmer set up her own business with help from various EU schemes.
Encouragement comes in other forms as well – for example, young farmers are seen as more likely to look to innovation to help develop their businesses. A number of programmes run by the European Innovation Partnership (EIP- AGRI) are designed to help encourage the take-up of innovative techniques for increasing output and reducing costs, for example. (Read the interview "Innovation for young European farmers" for more information).
What do young farmers need?
A recent survey of more than 2 000 farmers under 40 years in all 28 EU countries shows that after access to land to buy or to rent, what they need most is financial support (subsidies), access to credit and sufficient qualified labour. Needs, however, vary from country to country, as a separate report shows.