Newcomers are new entrants into farming who do not have a family background in agriculture. Although it is hard to quantify precisely, they are entering agriculture in growing numbers in many parts of Europe. According to partial studies conducted in Catalonia and France, and to our own field-based experience, these newcomers are more likely than the average to engage in agroecological projects: small farms, organic farming, selling directly to consumers, on-farm processing, etc.
The profiles of these newcomers are diverse: some are rural youth who want to start farming, others have an urban background. They tend to be older, more often female and with higher education levels than average new entrants. Their main obstacles to starting out are: gaining enough practical experience, finding seed capital, accessing land and accessing welfare benefits. Often, their entry into farming is a gradual process which may take several years, during which time they will test their will, undertake training, acquire access to the necessary land and money and sometimes run the project on an experimental basis for a year or two.
While accessing land is difficult for many new entrants, it is even more so for newcomers:
– they struggle to find information about land available for sale or rent. If they do, they are often faced with owners/retiring farmers who prefer to sell/rent to a neighbour than to somebody with no prior experience, who comes from "outside" and may have a different lifestyle.
– in many instances, the financial burden of buying land and farm buildings is such that new entrants cannot pool the funds needed (by themselves or from the banks), or it will take an entire professional lifetime to payback the money.
– many newcomers have projects which correspond to agroecological forms of farming, which tend to fall outside of existing criteria or processes determining eligibility to public subsidies and land access.
Like retiring farmers, newcomers need support from grassroots organisations, as well as public institutions and policies. Most of those who are currently entering farming, do so against overwhelming odds and with little support. With adequate support, it would be easier for them to enter farming and the viability of what they do would be increased. Over time, they could decisively contribute to the agroecological renewal of European agriculture.