Today, when a farm comes onto the market after a farmer retires, it is usually acquired by neighbouring farmers. Thus, a farm disappears and farms that are already large become even bigger. Given the scale of retirements expected within the next 10 years, this would lead to intense farm concentration, a major decline of European family farming and massive rural abandonment. It is now up to all of us to turn this generational change into an opportunity to facilitate the entry of a new generation of farmers and accelerate the transition towards agroecological farming.
To an older farmer, their farm represents many things:: a life-long place of work, a personal home, and a capital asset. It has sentimental, professional and financial value. It is often their only store of wealth and as such the main source of income for their retirement and what allows them to pass something down to their children. Leaving the farm usually means having to find a new house, possibly moving to a new environment. In a context where intra-family succession, albeit limited, remains the main reference, most farmers are not prepared for facing this challenging period.
Grassroots organisations, agricultural institutions and public policies must support ageing farmers in preparing for their succession. Good pension and welfare systems are needed, as for the rest of the population. Farmers also need technical and human support to address the many questions raised by farm transfer: what do to next? Where to live? What is the value of the farm? Can they find a successor? etc.
Our organisations are collaborating with an Erasmus + partnership on Farm Succession. Five grassroots organisations from four European countries (France, Netherlands, Austria & Belgium) are sharing experiences and tools for facilitating farm succession, and are drawing lessons from these practices. In a first phase, partner organisations shared and consolidated practical tools for facilitating farm continuity. They will now spread these tools to grassroots organisations in other EU countries. In the next phase, the group will analyse what political actions are needed at the national and EU levels. Both policy advisors and policy makers will be involved in this process. A toolkit for farm succession advisers will be developed in 2016, which will be available online.