Information on the mechanization of agriculture, gardening, components and multifunctionality.

Youth in farming, a combination to create

The farming business sector in Italy is suffering from great old age. Farmers of over the age of 65 account for 37% of the total compared to the 5% of less than 35 years of age. The rate of generational changeover on farming enterprises is sharply lower in Italy compared to the European average. However those managed by young farmers display substantially greater dynamics and capacities for innovation compared to the average for the country and this confirms the need for a policy of incentives, though this will not be easy

by Denis Pantini
October - November 2014 | Back

For some time now the catchphrase “return to the land” has been heard repeatedly among members of the younger generation with the significance of a renewed interest in farming activities able to create jobs and young entrepreneurs in the primary sector. Accompanied by the economic crisis and the negative cycle phase in the sector – everything can be renounced to live except food – various indicators appear to show a positive trend for the attractions of agro-food for young people. But is this really the case? An initial response to this question comes from analyses of occupation data according to age category. The number of workers in agriculture declined by 6% from 2008 to 2013 and those younger than 24 years of age fell by 15%. So at first glance the supposed return to the countryside does not seem to be taking place. But to avoid a hurried conclusion, Nomisma, an Economic Studies Society – with the backing of  Cattolica Assicurazioni, FederUnacoma the L’Informatore Agrario publishing house, (all attending an EIMA International conference on November 13th) – conducted a study for the dual purpose of understanding the requirements for developing farming enterprises led by young farmers and the real degree of attraction the sector exercises on those in search of a job or hold down employment outside agriculture. The study was obviously targeted on people under the age of 40, an age which undoubtedly refers to the concept of maturity but for Italian law is still the watershed between young and not so young farmers. The reason behind this research, broken down into two lines of investigation, lies in the difficult prospects for future sustainability in the primary sector.  It is known that the fabric of agricultural enterprises is suffering from old age. Farmers of over 65 years of age account for 37% of the total against 5% of them less than age 35. The gap between the two scales, which measures the generational changeover, is 13.6% and indicates a value compared to twenty years in that gap has narrowed from 17.5% in 1990 on the same index.

The situation being dealt is in no way similar to conditions in other European agriculture. It is enough to consider that in France the difference is 73% and reaches as high as 134% in Germany – in other words, young farmers outnumber the old ones. On average at the European level the index reaches 25%. The presence of young farmers, other than strengthening prospects for sustainability and continuity, shows greater evidence of innovation features and this factor is needed now more than ever for the competitiveness of the enterprise.

A few figures will help to better explain this concept.

The degree of work per hectare of UAA (utilized agricultural land) put in by young farmers in Italy is the lowest, at 9.7 days/ha, in the sector overall standing at 10.5 days/ha, and this represents a gauge of greater innovation/mechanization. And again, the average number of Italian farms with a computer come to 3.8% but rises to 45.5% for those run by young farmers with PCs whereas the percentage declines to 28.4% for farmers over 40.

Young farmers appear more likely to get into diversified activities; among farms led by the under 40s as many as 46% of them carry out other activities whereas the proportion slips to 37.4% for the over 40 farmers.

However these statistics on their own are not sufficient for understanding the prospects for the continuity of Italian agriculture and for this reason the two-tier investigation looked directly into a sample representing young and not so young farmers at the national level. The initial findings disclosed many starting points for interpretation. Above all, it must be noted that among young farmers the bureaucracy and gathering financial resources are the major obstacles in the way of change and innovation in farm management with the awareness that adequate technologies for machinery and equipment are among the leading factors for competitiveness. On the side of this conviction, only 10% of the young farmers said they were fully satisfied with the adequacy of the technological level reached with their machinery and equipment inventories and for this reason, nearly three out of four of them said they had intentions of purchasing agricultural machinery in the coming five years. Among the principal reasons declared on the basis of those who do not intend to make these types of investments were uncertainties of the future prospects for the primary sector. Negative thinking was also reflected in the perception of young farmers of their status in society. As many as 66% of them said they felt that public opinion considered farming a profession with a low “social standing”. In part, for this reason 40% of the young farmers hoped that one day their sons would continue farming on condition of an improvement of economic conditions in the sector whereas another 10% expressed hopes of finding a job outside the sector. 

These negative sensations coincide with the perception of the primary sector held by the farmers who are not young. For them, agriculture is a fundamental sector for society from the social, environmental and economic points of view but among the principal factors of activities in the primary sector bring to mind is the tiresome work. In light of these few but significant pieces of evidence the path to the “return to the land” for the younger generations appears to be extremely rocky and full of obstacles.  


THE MOST READ of the latest edition