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Land access a key barrier for new entrants to farming

“Access to land was identified as the most important barrier to new entrants. Although there are regions in Europe where land is available, accessing productive agricultural land is a major issue.”

Scottish farming needs to attract a steady flow of young farmers and new entrants to maintain the vitality of its agricultural sector. The available statistics show that most farmers (54.92%) are over 55 years of age. The proportion of young people, i.e. those under 35 years of age is relatively low (5.94%).

The ‘young farmer problem’ – the shortage of young people entering agriculture – is recognised at EU-level, although it varies considerably between member states. EU assistance has been available to young farmers for more than three decades, between 2007 and 2013 more than 126 000 young farmers received financial aid towards the initial establishment of their farms. Some 180 000 young farmers across the EU have received supports since 2013. However the ‘young farmer problem’ seems to remain. This is due, on one side, to the complexity of the problem and, on the other, to the limited effectiveness of current policy mechanisms in dealing with it.

Researchers from the James Hutton Institute have undertaken a review of EU supports for New Entrants in collaboration with the Czech University of Life Sciences Prague and the Technology Centre of the Czech Academy of Sciences.  They presented the research to the European Parliament’s subcommittee on Agriculture and Rural Development on 23 November 2017. The study was commissioned by the European Parliament and aims to examine the current state of policy implementation of New Entrant Supports after the 2013 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform. Another objective of the research is to recommend further measures or changes to the supports, which will assist young farmers and new entrants when dealing with the major barriers faced when entering the agriculture industry.

Lee-Ann Sutherland, a Senior Social Scientist from the Hutton’s Social, Economic and Geographical Sciences group explained some of the key findings from the report. She said: “Access to land was identified as the most important barrier to new entrants.  Although there are regions in Europe (typically remote or with poor quality land) where land is available, accessing productive agricultural land is a major issue.  The orientation of CAP direct payments exacerbates this problem – the allocation of farm subsidies on the basis of land access, in combination with limited requirements to make productive use of the land, encourages land speculation.  Current direct payments also discourage older farmers from releasing land, as the subsidies form a de facto pension”.

Feedback on the supports for young farmers and new entrants was consistently positive. The researchers recommend increasing the amount of funding available to assist young people to start farms, and raising the age limit on subsidy eligibility from 40 to 45.  They also identified a lack of clarify in the purpose of the supports at EU level – in Scotland, the supports are aimed at enabling new entrants to start farms, whereas most other European countries orient the supports towards farm successors.”

The study included statistical analysis of national differences and focus groups across 7 Member States.  The research also identified the importance of training in business skills, new initiatives in land matching, land trusts and farming ‘incubators’, and succession planning.  Networks of new entrants, and showcasing of successful business models, will be enabled in Scotland through a forthcoming European Commission-funded project ‘NEWBIE’ – new entrant business networks. 

The complete report can be found here.

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.