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Damien O'Reilly, EU Affairs & Communication Manager

One thing you notice chatting to counterparts from across Europe is the commonality of issues and problems. Whether its commodity prices, weather, succession or rural isolation, they are challenges which the farming community faces all across the EU27. CEJA is the European umbrella organisation for young farmers. Macra na Feirme is affiliated to CEJA which represents around 2 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% 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 & 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 EU 28. Land abandonment and high competition for land use between farmers and farm practices is serving as a huge challenge for young farmers. And of course land is also under pressure from the impact of climate change on land quality & 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 CAP schemes and they cite Macra na Feirme’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 perspective 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.

By Damien O’Reilly

Letter from Brussels published in the Irish Farmers Monthly