A report released earlier this month has found that more than half of Europe’s farmers are over 55 years old and a quarter over 65, while only 7.5% of farms are run by people under the age of 35.
This reminder of the aging agricultural sector has prompted European members of parliament to call for more EU measures to encourage young farmers to stay in agriculture.
On June 5 the European Parliament officially adopted the report which, while it fails to introduce new legislation, will provide the basis for a future draft report on support measures for young farmers.
The report’s author, Italian MEP Donato Tommaso, warns that more has to be done to encourage young people to stick with a tough farming industry in a rapidly changing agricultural world.
According to Tommaso, ‘It is not the heavy workload that discourages young people from this occupation, but the high financial investment–in particular land purchase–needed to set up in business, which pushes them into debt’.
The issue is being taken up around the world. In South Africa, the Agriculture Minister Lulu Xingwana will launch the Youth in Agriculture and Rural Development (Yard) initiative this weekend. Yard aims to develop agricultural skills among the nation’s youth and to increase active participation by young people in rural development and sustainable agriculture programs.
In Australia, a senior academic made a call yesterday for more students to study agriculture at university, to help solve the world food crisis. Professor Rick Roush of Melbourne University argued that agricultural education is the key to dealing with global warming and increasing populations, and thus a very exciting area of study with healthy career opportunities.
In Wales (UK), where the average farmer’s age is 61, these issues were raised at last week’s annual meeting of the Farmers’ Union. Members identified that while the network of Welsh family farmers had proved resilient for centuries, future success depended on attracting younger people into the industry.
In the UK, Tory MEP and farmer Neil Parish said, ‘Ask a young person what he or she wants to do when they grow up and far too few will say farming. We need to change that situation so that farming can be seen as a potential business where entrepreneurs can thrive financially and receive job satisfaction’.