Original publication: October 2019
Authors: ÖIR GmbH: Ambre MAUCORPS, Arndt MÜNCH, Sanja BRKANOVIC, Bernd SCHUH (Research leader)
Countryside and Community Research Institute, University of Gloucestershire: Prof. Janet DWYER, Dr. Mauro VIGANI, Dr. Amr KHAFAGY Red2Red Consultores: María COTO SAURAS, Perrine DESCHELLETTE, Andrea LÓPEZ
University of Tuscia: Prof. Simone SEVERINI, Dr. Federico ANTONIOLI Case Studies: Roland GAUGITSCH (Austria), Ambre MAUCORPS (France), Arndt MÜNCH (Germany), Dr. John POWELL, Katarina KUBINAKOVA (Ireland), Prof. Simone SEVERINI, Dr. Federico ANTONIOLI (Italy), Martyna DERSZNIAK-NOIRJEAN (Poland), Prof. Cosmin SALASAN (Romania), María COTO SAURAS (Spain)
Statistical analysis: Ambre MAUCORPS, Roland GAUGITSCH, Mailin GAUPP-BERGHAUSEN, Chien Hui HSIUNG, Florian FASCHING (ÖIR GmbH) – Mapping: Roland GAUGITSCH (ÖIR GmbH)
With support from: Florian KERINGER (ÖIR GmbH)

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Key findings:
  • Further contraction of farming employment is expected at the European level, in line with the European Commission’s agricultural outlook for 2030.
  • Generational renewal in the agricultural sector is likely to remain an issue of concern in the business-as-usual scenario.
  • The schemes and measures implemented through the first and second Pillars of the CAP have produced diverse, sometimes opposite effects on the farming labour force.
  • In that regard, the 2021-2027 CAP could seek a better alignment of the two pillars’ objectives at the territorial level.
  • In addition, a stronger coordination of better integrating and coordinating the CAP goals and tools with EU social policies and other European Structural and Investment Funds would be beneficial, especially in respect of the migrant workforce.
The EU farming employment: current challenges and future prospects

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The study on “the EU farming employment: current challenges and future prospects” examines the current structure of and latest trends in EU farming employment, exploring in particular the drivers of agricultural labour markets and how they differ across Europe. Starting from an analysis of the historic and spatial patterns of changes within the agricultural labour force in Europe, the study then delves into the determinants of such developments, the associated challenges and the microeconomic strategies implemented to overcome them. The role and performance of the CAP for maintaining agricultural employment and improving farmers’ working conditions in rural areas is discussed, building inter alia on a comprehensive literature review.

Main findings
Territorial patterns of structural changes within the agricultural labour force As a whole, farming employment in the EU has been steadily declining for decades and fell from 13.1 million Annual Work Units in 2003 to 9.1 million Annual Work Units in 2018 across the EU-27, representing an impressive 30% decrease in the last fifteen years. Concurrently, the number of small and medium-sized farms has diminished while the number of large farms (above 100 hectares) has risen, hinting to a consolidation of the farming sector.
The picture is however not uniform across the EU, with a few Member States having recently experienced a modest increase in the number of farms (Czech Republic, Slovakia) and others in their agricultural labour force (Greece, Slovenia, Malta, and to a lesser extent, Cyprus, Romania and Lithuania). When looking at this trend from a regional perspective, some additional regions dispersed across Europe are standing out with an even stronger increase in farm labour force (Corsica, Eastern Wales, Alentejo, etc.).

Share of family workers in the EU regions’ agricultural labour force Likewise, there is no clear-cut West-East or North-South divide of farming models in the EU: many parts of Europe predominantly feature family farming models (Ireland and Northern Ireland, the Central European area (encompassing Bavaria, Austria, Northern Italy, Slovenia and Croatia), the Atlantic coastal regions (from Northern Portugal to Northern Spain), as well as Romania, Greece, Poland and Latvia), while other regions demonstrate a majority of externally hired labour (the belt ranging from Eastern-Germany to Slovakia over Czech Republic, the majority of France and Southern Spain). In addition, relying on temporary labour is not a unique practice of Mediterranean agriculture but is also found across Europe including in Flanders, the Netherlands and Western Germany.

These disparities, vailed behind an evident concentration of the agricultural economy at the European level, raise the question of the determinants of structural changes within agricultural holdings and how they affect employment. What are the various drivers of structural changes within European farms, and how does this relate to family and/or corporate farming models? To what extent are structural changes bringing about challenges and opportunities for local farmers? What microeconomic responses are to be observed across Europe? Finally, what are the future prospects of farming employment at different territorial levels? Through a combination of quantitative and qualitative analysis methods, the study offers a range of evidence-based findings to respond to these questions and suggests substantiated recommendations for policy action at the EU level.

Challenges and microeconomic responses to changes in agricultural labour

The in-depth case studies carried out as part of this study provide detailed insights into the challenges faced by European farmers, and more generally the agricultural sector, taking the lens of the regional level. The quality of life in rural areas for farmers and their families, the ageing of the farm managers’ population, the urban-rural income gap and ensuing ‘brain drain’ of young educated workers towards more vibrant economies, the difficult access to credit and lack of targeted investment, the shortage of labour supply during season peaks and the use of migrant workers to meet this need, as well as the adverse and potentially sizeable effects of climate change on agriculture have been recurrently mentioned as challenges for the regional agricultural sectors researched. Additionally, some regions suffer from a deficient land cadastre, impeding farm transfers outside the family circle, while other show a persistent technological and innovation laggardness with family farms unable to remain competitive.
In order to reduce their dependence on a single source of income, increase their revenues and thereby ensure the viability of their holdings, farmers can undertake different activities, both on and off-farm. These include on-farm diversification activities (such as processing and/or selling of agricultural products in short food supply chains, agritourism and renewable energy production) as well as off-farm, non-agriculture-related gainful activities.
However, at the EU level, these two options remain limited, as only 1 in 20 farms were diversified across the EU (with wide disparities between countries)[1] and in many EU countries, the majority of farm managers still dedicate all of their time to farming[2]. Difficult access to land, unfavourable weather conditions, low tourism potential and the relative isolation of some rural areas are all obstacles to the further expansion of farm diversification.

Future prospects of farming employment in Europe: the role of institutional frameworks
The application of statistical forecasting models allows for the short-term evolution of farming employment related variables to be estimated and future values to be predicted, within a range of likely values (confidence intervals) mirroring the uncertainty linked to future policy interventions and other external influencing factors. More specifically, the forecasting models have yielded the following results: further contraction of farming employment is expected at the European level, in line with the European Commission’s agricultural outlook for 2030. More importantly, generational renewal in the agricultural sector is likely to remain an issue of concern in the business-as-usual scenario, as the number of farms managed by young farmers – already significantly lower than that of older farmers – is following a steep downward path.
The impact of the CAP on agricultural and rural jobs, as so far reported by different evaluations performed across Europe, is mixed. The schemes and measures implemented through the first and second Pillars of the CAP (namely the direct payments and rural development measures, respectively) have produced diverse, sometimes opposite effects on the farming labour force, depending on the nature and scale of the investments, the use of the payments by farm managers (e.g. hiring additional workers or substituting mechanised for human labour), the farming systems in place locally as well as other influencing factors such as synergistic or competing sectoral, fiscal, social and environmental policies stemming from different governance levels (including measures funded through the European Regional Development Fund and European Social Fund). The upcoming CAP programming period, and in particular the types of Pillar 1 schemes (and the rules governing them) as well as the objectives of Pillar 2 measures (and their weight in the RDPs), will be key in supporting change in a shrinking farming sector over the years to come.

Policy recommendations
In order to curb some of the main issues identified, the 2021-2027 CAP could be pay greater attention to:
  • Increasing efforts to keep young generations within the sector and encourage new entrants to take up or set up farming businesses.
  • Improving the quality of rural employment by investing in diversification and added value to farming, in line with the ‘greening’ and sustainability strategies.
  • Tailoring rural development support to the needs and potential of the region/country, focusing namely on rural values and rural fabric (CAP ‘rooted’ in the territory).
  • Offering more flexibility to fine-tune CAP Pillar 1 to meet regional needs, and in particular stimulating more agricultural production where production is scant through coupling, so as to incentivise older farmers to retire and hand over their holding and/or land to younger farmers.
  • Streamlining the two pillars of the CAP at the territorial level so as to achieve a common vision and clear objectives with regard to farming employment.
  • Better coordinating and articulating the CAP goals and tools with EU social policies and other European Structural and Investment Funds, especially in respect of the migrant workforce.
[1]   Source: European Parliament Research Service, Farm diversification in the EU, Briefing, April 2016, data from 2013. [2]   Source: Eurostat, data from 2013

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Study presentation: The EU farm employment: current challenges and future prospects – Research4Committees · December 17, 2019 at 2:50 pm

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