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Working Document
Farming in the future – a challenge for young farmers, discussion paper for the informal meeting of Agriculture Ministers in Luxembourg - 10 May 2005

Date of release : 03-05-2005

Policy area : Agriculture and Fisheries Agriculture and Fisheries

Event : Informal Meeting of Ministers for Agriculture

Introduction / Background

The Common Agricultural Policy, created over 40 years ago, has been reformed many times during its existence and has often been the subject of debate.  Thus, in 1997, during the Luxembourg Presidency, it was possible to have all Member States adhere to the European model of agriculture.  Under this model agriculture, as an economic sector, must be competitive, sustainable, multifunctional, and distributed throughout the territory of the European Union.  This model was confirmed during the most recent in-depth reform of agriculture policy in June 2003 arising from Commission proposals during its mid-term review of Agenda 2000.  The reasons which led to this reform were as follows:

  • to maintain budgetary costs at an acceptable level in an enlarged Union of 25 Member States,
  • to take account of the interests of customers and taxpayers while continuing to give adequate support to farmers,
  • to preserve the rural economy and the environment,
  • to set up the adoption of a strong negotiating position on agriculture in the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The key elements of the reform are as follows:

  • the introduction of a single payment scheme, decoupled from production, with Member States nonetheless having the possibility of partially maintaining direct aid coupled to production volume for certain produce,
  • the linking of the single payment to observation of a set of environmental, food safety, animal and plant health and animal welfare standards,
  • the requirement to keep all farmland in good agricultural and environmental condition ("cross-compliance"),
  • modulation of direct aid in order to finance further rural development measures,
  • a financial discipline mechanism which will ensure that CAP expenditure remains within strict financial limits, and
  • the expansion of the scope of instruments for rural development.

Any consideration of future development in agricultural policy should take place in the broader context of the Lisbon and Gothenburg strategies.

The EU's main priorities as defined in these strategies are employment, growth, innovation and sustainability.  In the context of sustainable development, account needs to be taken of the social, environmental and economic aspects of developments in farming practice. 

The broad lines of the EU strategic guidelines for rural development policy for 2007 to 2013 are currently being drawn up. 

It is in this context that the Luxembourg Presidency of the Council of the European Union wishes to consider in depth the future of farming.  Broaching the subject from the point of view of young farmers, and together with them, would seem to be the most pragmatic and promising approach, since young people who envisage, or who are about to embark upon, a career in farming are asking themselves a number of questions about the future of the profession and about farming in general.   The contribution of young farmers will enhance discussions on the reform of agricultural policy in years to come.

The position of young farmers in the European Union

The results of the Community survey on the structure of farm holdings indicate the situation on holdings regarding, inter alia, the age of farmers.  The following data refer to those Member States in the European Union of 25 for which information is available through EUSOSTAT. 

The average farm size was 20,7 ha in 2003, an increase of 12,5% on 1999/2000.

In 2003, 24,5% of holdings (excluding collectivities) had heads of holdings aged younger than 45 years.  This percentage was slightly higher in 1999/2000.

In 2003, the average size of holdings run by heads of holding aged younger than 35 years was 31,3 ha as against 31,2 ha for heads of holdings aged between 35 and 44 years, 26,5 ha for heads of holdings aged between 45 and 54 years, 19,4 ha for heads of holdings aged between 55 and 64 years and 8,2 ha for heads of holdings aged 65 or more.  The category of heads of holdings under 35 years is now in pole position as regards average area per holding, whereas in 2000 it was the second most significant category, next to heads of holdings aged between 35 and 40 years.  This reflects the fact that restructuring of holdings is more likely to happen when holdings change hands.

Strong trends in the European agriculture of the future

Due mainly to technological progress, agriculture shall be restructured in years to come, resulting in a reduction in the number of holdings and an increase in the average size of the remaining holdings.  However, in parallel with restructuring and rationalisation, an effort must be made to reduce production costs at all levels. 

Farmers are unlikely to be indifferent to the social progress which can be expected.  Will they be willing and able to achieve similar social progress for themselves?

Farmers must align production on market requirements; there is no point in producing if one cannot sell one's produce.  Agricultural production must therefore, reflect and to be constantly adapted to, consumer requirements.  Account must be taken of needs, not only in terms of quantity but also in terms of quality.  New agricultural products and production methods must be developed, in cooperation with the agri-food sector, to satisfy the ever﷓changing needs of consumers. 

Instead of merely producing in sufficient quantities and of the quality required, farmers must also become more involved in the debate on agricultural production and produce.  Farmers have an important contribution to make to this debate.  In actively informing about their profession, agricultural production methods and farming in general, they can help boost the brand image of farming, give farming and farm produce the importance they deserve and tackle the problem of alienation with which farmers are increasingly faced.  Dialogue must address the farming world but also, and especially the non-farming world.

The recent crises in the agri-food sector show that consumers have become more demanding in matters of food safety.  But food safety must be approached in terms of the agri-food chain as a whole, and agriculture is only one link in that chain.  Farmers, together with the other partners in the agri-food chain and the public authorities, must make the necessary effort to ensure a high level of food safety and to dialogue with consumers on the subjects of food safety and public health.

The production methods used by farmers are increasingly friendly towards the environment and nature conservation.  Equally, there is a growing awareness among the population of problems relating to the environment and nature.  There must, therefore, be an ongoing dialogue between farmers and the non-agricultural population, conducted through professional organisations and the various interest groups, on problems relating to the environment and nature conservation.

Young farmers, developers of tomorrow's agriculture

It is the young farmers who will take over from the present generation of business leaders and who constitute the living resources of agriculture.  If agriculture is to be able to develop normally, farmers who retire or leave the profession must be replaced in sufficient numbers by young farmers who are capable of efficiently managing a farm.  The age structure of the family workforce currently reflects the fact that it is a markedly ageing population, especially among the men, with certain variations according to Member State.  This trend towards the ageing of the agricultural population cannot be reversed in the short term.

In order to identify the areas on which discussion should be targeted, the Presidency sent the delegations and the young farmers' organisations of the CEJA a questionnaire, an assessment of which is annexed to this document.

We can identify four major areas, partially interconnected, which are worthy of discussion.

1. Access to agricultural activity

Considerable importance is attached to those aspects relating to access to agricultural activity, which are currently being dealt with in connection with the examination of the proposal on support for rural development by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (priority axis 1: improving the competitiveness of the agricultural and forestry sector; (a) measures aiming to improve human potential; measure (ii): establishment of young farmers).  These measures will have to be devised in such a way as to allow the succession of farms so that the current deficits in the age structure of farmers and agricultural workers can be reduced, bearing in mind the increased requirements in terms of professional training and qualification which will provide the best possible conditions for such succession.


  • How can the large number of successions of farms (necessary in order to balance the age structure of farmers) be reconciled with requirements relating to training, professional qualification and an adequate economic dimension, all of which are crucial to the success of such successions?
  • To what extent does attracting young people to the agricultural sector depend on improving the living conditions of the population and young people in the rural environment?

2. The image of farming

Young farmers are particularly concerned about projecting a positive image of both their profession and agricultural products to the non-farming world.  Improving knowledge about the origins and method of production of agricultural products and raising awareness of the role of the farmer in the agricultural production process is becoming increasingly important since most citizens have no direct contact with the world of agriculture and are at the mercy of other sources of information on foodstuffs and the services provided by farming to society.  The rather negative image of farming in the eyes of consumers following the disposal of surplus agricultural products, and successive crises during which food safety has been called into question, seems to be showing clear signs of improvement as a result of the efforts which have been made to redress the balance.  This more positive image of farming should therefore be consolidated, both with regard to consumers and within the agricultural sector itself.


  • Who are the best people/what is the best way to develop a positive image of farming
  • with regard to consumers?
  • with regard to the world of agriculture?
  • Do consumers require more information on the Common Agricultural Policy?
  • How can the link between farming and farming products be made more visible/strengthened?

3. Training, continuing education, exchanges

In today's increasingly knowledge-based society, ensuring that young farmers have an appropriate level of training and the ability to increase the level of the knowledge which they have acquired is becoming ever more essential in order to guarantee the continued existence of farms.  Hence, along with economic factors such as the size of the holding and the level of non﷓farm income, other factors such as entrepreneurial spirit and - above all - a young farmer's level of training and qualifications have a positive effect on levels of farm successions.  Young people opting for farming and its associated professions therefore need to be provided with the means of achieving the highest possible level of training.  Agricultural training covers many areas: in addition to general education, it also extends to the technical, economic, environmental and animal welfare aspects of agricultural production.

The initial training given to farmers must be supplemented and adapted at regular intervals by means of continuous education.

Exchanges, traineeships and networking, e.g. the EUROPEA (agricultural training in Europe) network are effective means of increasing training levels in general and plugging any gaps in agricultural training.


  • How can continuous education and agricultural exchanges be developed further?
  • How can we ensure that agricultural training and research are in step with the economic and social realities of the farming sector?

4. The instruments of the Common Agricultural Policy and young farmers

The first pillar of the Common Agricultural Policy was reformed recently with the introduction of a single payment system regardless of the volume of production and the establishment of a link between this single payment system and compliance with standards in the field of the environment, food safety, animal and plant health and animal welfare, together with a requirement to keep farming land in conditions that are agronomically and environmentally satisfactory.

Moreover, the successive reforms that have taken place since the early 1990s have progressively reduced support for production by means of guaranteed prices.

The second pillar of the Common Agricultural Policy, which relates to sustainable rural development, is currently being redefined around the major axes of improving the competitiveness of the agricultural and forestry sector, land management, the diversification of rural economies and the quality of life in rural areas.


  • What impact will the reorganisation of the first pillar of the Common Agricultural Policy have on young farmers?
  • Which rural development policy instruments are capable of encouraging and supporting young farmers in particular?

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This page was last modified on : 04-05-2005

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