By Stephen Cadogan
The ageing profile right across the European workforce is a general phenomenon rather than a particular problem in agriculture, according to the latest analysis by CAP expert Alan Matthews.
In the capreform.eu/ blog, he says the EU’s ageing workforce is linked to the changing demographic structure in Europe caused by lower fertility.
This gives rise to a changing population pyramid in which the size of the younger age cohorts is falling relative to the size of the older age groups.
It is also linked both to younger people staying longer in education, and older people remaining longer in the workforce due to improved health and rising longevity.
If the ageing of the agricultural labour force is compared with general social trends, the case that there is a particular problem in agriculture does not stand up.
For those who are striving to encourage more younger farmers to enter the business or to take over management responsibility on their familys’ farms, Mr Matthews says that they can learn from the striking differences across European Union Member States in the extent of the problem “before throwing EU money at new initiatives or renewing existing ones.”
Some of these differences may reflect differences in farm structure (for example, a greater proportion of smaller farms). However, the differences may also reflect policies with respect to inheritance practices, fiscal treatment, retirement schemes, or the support given to succession within the family.
Either way, it is striking that research by the CAP expert shows countries such as Austria and Poland with a much more favourable farmer age structure.
Along with several other countries of central Europe, and Finland they have a lower share of older farmers and a higher share of younger farmers than the EU average.
At the other end of the scale are countries such as Portugal and Cyprus, with an above-average share of older farmers and a below-average share of younger farmers, making their problems of generational renewal in agriculture most acute, mainly in the countries of southern Europe, although the UK is a member of this group also.
According to analysis of the Eurostat 2013 Farm Structure Survey by Mr Matthews, Ireland lies about halfway between these extremes.