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Damien O'Reilly
EU Affairs and Communication Manager, ICOS

Letter from Brussels - April 2023

One thing you notice when chatting to counterparts from across Europe is the commonality of issues and problems. Whether its commodity prices, weather, succession or rural isolation, these are challenges that the farming community faces all across Europe. The European Council of Young Farmers, known as CEJA, is the European umbrella organisation for young farmers. Macra is affiliated to CEJA, which represents around two million young farmers across Europe.
In February, they published a policy paper titled Access to Land - Are we losing the European plot? The report cited the fact that access to land is the primary obstacle to generational renewal in European agriculture. There are approximately 157 million hectares of land used in the EU for agricultural production, which represents around 38 per cent of total EU land area. But land is scarce, and it is expensive. And that land area is dwindling every year for many reasons including from construction and urbanisation. For example, in relation to ‘land take’ which is where land is ‘seized for construction and urban development’, the CEJA report shows that from 2000 to 2018, a total of 1.4 million hectares of land was taken in the EU28. Land abandonment and high competition for land use between farmers and farm practices are serving as a huge challenges for young farmers. And of course, land is also under pressure from the impact of climate change on land quality and quantity and soil health.

The report also focuses on social issues around land use such as intergenerational tensions, land retention to secure payments and the reluctance of older farmers to encourage the younger generation to take over. Interestingly in their list of 13 recommendations, they suggest ‘providing an intergenerational policy mix to facilitate land mobility and transfer’, through existing Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) schemes and they cite Macra’s Land Mobility Service as a good example of how this could work. Easier access to finance is also key as the report concludes that young farmers are two to three times more likely to have a loan application rejected than farmers 40 years ago.
In March 2017, the European Parliament officially declared: “If the agricultural sector is to have a future, it is particularly dependent on access to agricultural land for young people.” Six years on and with a new parliament set to be elected in a little over 12 months, young farmers across Europe need to have their voice heard by prospective MEPs. With co-decision, the parliament has a much bigger say in shaping EU policy than it once had. And with climate central to much agricultural policy, the ones who will be charged with delivering on these agri-environmental targets need every support they can get and that begins with access to land.