The SURE-Farm project, led by the University of Wageningen with the participation of researchers from IAMO and ILVO along with other partners from various European countries, studies to what extent EU farming systems are resilient to demographic change. Based on quantitative and qualitative analyses, the recently published business brief on generational renewal in agriculture illustrates that the main challenges of generational renewal are less about whether farms will have a successor but rather about whether there will be sufficient qualified labour to work in the sector. Already now, a large portion of the agricultural work is carried out by permanent and seasonal labourers, who often come from abroad. In the future, agriculture will be competing even more intensely than it is now with economically stronger sectors and regions for the significantly smaller young generation.
Provided that qualified workers are available and affordable, existing farming systems can continue to fulfill their social functions even if a significant share of farms exit in the medium-term due to not having a successor. In regions with small-scale structures in particular, having fewer successors offers better development opportunities for the remaining farms which can even improve the performance of the sector.
However, the changes which would accompany a future with fewer successors pose particular challenges for both individual farms and farming systems as a whole with regard to the farmers’ own qualifications and those of the potential labour pool. Lifelong learning is becoming increasingly important in light of the increasing technological requirements and digitalization of agriculture. This means that young people, including potential successors of a farm, who are interested in agriculture should be more concerned about whether they have the mental and emotional capacity to endure the stress of managing their own farm and whether their parents’ farm would provide an economically stable future than with the professional prospects of an agricultural education.
With the inter-sectoral and interregional competition for the younger generation and given the inevitable technological and agricultural structural changes, it is becoming increasingly important to improve the reputation of both agriculture and rural areas. In order to be able to use the existing opportunities and potential of the young generation, the focus of farmers, farmers’ organisations and policy should be more on the quality of the generational renewal than on the number of farm successions.
The full business brief, published in several languages, can be found at:
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