In Italy, as in most other parts of Europe, as price of food goes up and the value of food products drops, agricultural land is growing in value and changing in use. As a result, Italian farmland is becoming de-linked from its actual agricultural use because while farmers’ profit are getting smaller and farm business hardly manage to stay on the market, financial capitals are moving into land speculation and land is becoming an attractive safety asset. Farmland is often more profitable as a mean to produce renewable energy, for the value connected with the natural resources it holds and, in Italy, it can easily be exploited in the tourism or real estate industry.
At the same time, for what is kept farmland, there is an ongoing process of land concentration as more agricultural land is coming under the control of a small number of large-scale farms or companies. While this happens, land use is more and more shifting towards an extractive-industrial model and away from sustainable family farms which could provide the basis for a more sustainable and localised agrarian systems.
On the other end of the spectrum, among the very small holdings - the so called microfarms - there is a dynamic of land abandonment. Up to the sixties, Italian economy was based on agriculture on a large number of very small farms in rural areas. When the industrial boom interested the country, the number of people employed in agriculture dropped and rural areas (and farmland) were abandoned. Nowadays, owners of that land – which are nieces or sons of former farmers – are, most of the time, not willing to farm it nor to hand it over to current farmers or new entrants.
Having a look on agriculture in Italy and through the comparison of the latest census (2000 - 2010) we can identify a few main dynamics:
- Over last decade, the number of farms diminished by 800.000 units (dropping by 32%) while the UAA decreased by 300.000 ha (- 2%) and the average size of the farm grew to 8 ha (+44,2%) which is still slightly more than half of the European one (14 ha).
- This is mainly due to the reduction of the number of farm below 30 ha, and in particular of the “micro” farm with less than 2 ha (- 44%). However, the “micro” farm still represent 51% of the total. The other side of the token is the increase of the number of farm with more than 30 ha, which represent just more than 5% of the total but manage now 54% of the UAA - used agricultural area.
- This process of land concentration it is very well connected with market policies and the food system - which require specialization and scale and it doesn’t allow micro farm to be sustainable - as well as the CAP policies whose subsidies are connected with land size and tend to favor large scale farm to smaller one. At the same time, it can be seen as a defragmentation of the productive structure which has social roots and is connected with the decline of what was called “part-time” agriculture and the spreading of subcontracting.
- The dramatic drop in farms number is ever more so in the mountainous part of the country, which is about about 40% of the total (hills 30%, planes 25%). The difference is even stronger in the TAA - total agricultural area - reduction, which decreased by 20% while remaining unvaried in the other cases.
- Over the last three decades the UAA diminished by 45% in the farms with 1 to 10 ha and of the 25% in the ones with 10 to 20 ha. On the opposite, it increased in the farm with more than 50 ha.
- Therefore, the distribution of farms by UAA size is undergoing a process of concentration. While in 1982 UAA was basically split in half between farm larger than 20 ha and smaller than 20 ha, in 2010 the number of farms with less than 20 ha is slightly more than 1/3 . The change has been even more striking at the two edges: on the one side, the smaller farms with less than 10 ha which represent 84% of the total and manage less than 1/4 of the UAA, on the other larger farm with more than 50 ha which represent 3% of the total and manage 42% of the total UAA. Which, in other words, it means that small farm are increasingly pushed to manage marginal lands.
- This strong polarization by size and the concentration of UAA in the larger farms are becoming a feature of Italian agriculture and are determining a sharp distinction between the productive and occupational role of farming and its social, political and educational one.
- Data tell us that agriculture in Italy is moving from simple forms of legal status to more complex ones. Although individual companies are still 88% of the total (about 1.500.000 farms), corporations and partnerships increased over last years (by 3% the former and by 1,6% the latter) with corporation doubling by UAA. Substantially decreased instead the number of public bodies (connected with national and local government) due to both restructuring and privatization.
- Tenure regimes are changing as well. While the majority of land farmed is still owned (55% of the UAA), renting land is becoming more common. This could be an important feature in assuring farm continuity and help new farmers enter the scene.
- In 2010, in Italy, about 3.000.000 UAA were managed by over 65 and only 3% of farming entrepreneurs were younger than 35 years old. 4
- Comparing the data from the two latest census (2000-2010) we can see that the number of young farmers decreased by 40%, starting from 273.000 to 162.000. And a large part (39%) of the 800.000 farms lost in the decade belonged to farmers aged 30-39 years old. This is an important loss in itself but it is even more important seen the ability of young farmers to use all productive means more efficiently compared to their elder. The situation is even bleaker considering the total of the farming entrepreneurs: taking in all age classes, the number of farmers leaving the business is 974.000 while the entrants are just 173.00. It means that every 1000 farmers, 375 left and only 77 came to replace them. Among the major problem facing new farmers is access to land and access to credit.
- It is interesting to see that education level is getting higher in the new generation of farmers, although with a prevalence of non agrarian diplomas or degrees. So, if on the one side this highlight the little importance paid to technical education in farming and the high percentage of part time / leisure farms, on the other can be see as shift which could lead important change in business management and farming ideas.
- According to Eurostat data, in Italy there are about 1.621.000 farming businesses - which is 13% of the European total – employing over 950.000 persons and generating 2% of the country GDP (2012). Agricultural land is (TAA) 17 million hectares, of which 13 millions are used (UAA).
- An interesting part of the land is either owned or directly and indirectly managed by the government - 2 million hectares TAA / 715,000 hectares UAA - and divided into more than 2600 farms. Moreover, over 1 million ha come under a communal or common property category (lands that belong to the citizens and are inalienable). In these cases, Municipalities only have to manage the land and to protect citizens’ collective rights over them.