The rapid EU-wide loss of family and small-scale farms is in part due to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the EU’s agricultural Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski has said, pointing to the policy’s “errors and mistakes”.
Speaking during a recent AGRI-PETI joint committee meeting in the European Parliament, the Commissioner pointed out that between 2005 and 2014, as many as 4 million farms have disappeared in the EU, many of which were small farms.
“They were vanishing to the tune of a thousand a day,” Wojciechowski said, citing the example of his home country of Poland, which according to the latest agricultural census released this month has lost 190,000 of its farms, or 13%, in the past 10 years.
The Commissioner put this loss down, at least in part, to “certain errors and mistakes” in the CAP.
“I think we have to be open about this because on the one side we had those small farms disappearing and in their place […] those huge industrial factories that were getting European money,” he said.
This process of industrialisation has seen farmers “pushed to the wall” he said, leading to a number of them giving up their farms.
“Something went awry,” Wojciechowski conceded, saying there was a need to “reverse this process in some way”.
The situation of small farms in Europe
What is needed to support small and large farms and what are the possibilities for small-area farms to innovate and better adapt to market needs.
The Commissioner’s comments echo those of Irish MEP Chris Macmanus who in a recent interview with EURACTIV criticised the CAP and its role in supporting small farmers, highlighting his concerns of an “alarming rate” of land concentration.
“I am very concerned this will be the last generation of family farmers in the EU,” Macmanus said, adding that we are “against the clock” to take action to save the EU family farming model.
According to Eurostat, although the EU’s agricultural sector remains characterised by a high number of very small farms, there is a “tendency towards consolidation, with large farms accounting for a growing proportion of the land farmed in the EU”.
Despite this, small farms remain a cornerstone of agricultural activity in the EU. This was pointed out in a letter sent to Commissioners Wojciechowski and Stella Kyriakides as well as executive Vice President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans, among others, to mark the International Day of Peasants’ Struggle on 17 April.
The letter, which was signed by more than 60 farmers associations, academics, and NGOs, highlights that these small farms and the people who work on them are “key to the very foundations of all agriculture”.
The authors stress the need for more farmers to create a sustainable food system that can “guarantee healthy food for the whole population, invigorate rural areas, and conserve territorial, biological and cultural diversity”.
“The EU must stop favouring the large-scale industrial agricultural production model that disadvantages small and medium farmers and leaves rural areas deserted,” the letter reads.
EU’s family farming model at risk of dying out, warns MEP
Family farming as we know it is under threat and this may be the last generation of EU family farmers, according to Sinn Féin MEP Chris MacManus, who raised concerns over land concentration and called for a larger safety net for small farms.
Small farmers are high on the agenda of the CAP reform, which aims to prioritise small and medium-sized farms and encourage young farmers to join the greying profession.
The proposed reform put forward by the Commission aims at reducing the share of direct payments received above €60,000 per farm and limit payments at €100,000 per farm, a position backed by the European Parliament during the ongoing negotiations with the EU ministers.
The Commission also proposed a minimum of 2% of direct support payments allocated to each EU country set aside for young farmers.
The Parliament wants to increase this minimum to 4%, while the Council scrapped any reference to a specific percentage of support to young farmers in its negotiating mandate.