The ageing of Europe’s farmers is one of the greatest challenges that rural areas are facing, according to the European Commission.

This week, the commission published its ‘Evaluation on the impact of the CAP on generational renewal, local development and jobs in rural areas‘.

Key findings of the report include that the Common Agricultural Policy’s (CAP) impact on generational renewal is “mostly positive, but remains limited notably in regions lacking basic infrastructure and services”.

“The CAP on its own is not sufficient to address main entry barriers into farming, such as access to land and access to capital,” the commission said.

“The measures included in the CAP are supporting the economic sustainability of young farmers, but the full potential of such measures is not exploited.”

In 2016, for every farm manager under 40, there were three farm managers over the age of 65 in the EU.

CAP generational renewal measures

The evaluation is supported by an external study and examines the effectiveness, efficiency, relevance, coherence and EU added value of the policy measures of the two pillars of the CAP implemented between 2014 and 2020.

The measures assessed in the evaluation are those most relevant to generational renewal: direct payment support to young farmers; investment support; and business start-up aid (‘CAP generational renewal measures’).

The evaluation finds that the support provided by the ‘CAP generational renewal measures’ have a positive impact in the increase of the number of young farmers, although to a limited extent.

“This positive impact also depends on other factors. For instance, socio-cultural and wider economic incentives play a major role in deciding to get into farming or living in rural areas,” the commission states.

“CAP generational renewal measures improve the performance of farm businesses, their resilience, and the secure transfer of farms from the older to the younger generation.

“However, these measures tend to increase the socio-economic sustainability of farm businesses after young farmers have set up their business, rather than contributing to farm succession.

“In addition, CAP generational renewal measures are not well adapted to outside of the family farm transfers.

“The support provided by the generational renewal measures helps new farmers with the general costs following the set-up of their farm and of the early years investment support.

“However, on its own it is insufficient to address main entry barriers into farming, such as access to land and capital issues.”

Although the training level of young farm managers under 35 has increased over time, access to knowledge and advice “is still insufficient”.

Benefits of more formal training for farmers

In 2016, only 43% of young farm managers had more than practical experience, compared to 32% on average for all EU farmers.

“The analysis shows the benefits of providing more formal training and advice as a condition for accessing capital grants, start-up aid and/or young farmer direct payment supplement,” the commission notes.

“Rural development support, in addition to other EU policies such as the regional and cohesion funds that promotes rural economic diversification, better services and infrastructure [including broadband], is vital to improving the broader economic climate, particularly in rural areas.

“The delivery and impact of CAP generational renewal measures could be improved, if member states develop integrated approaches, using in a coherent way multiple CAP and non-CAP instruments and broader legislative and fiscal provisions.”