Six percent of Europe’s farmers are under the age of 35, and yet European farmers provide more than 500 million Europeans with high quality, affordable food every year. We need to look at ways to make agriculture more sustainable and to do this we need to find ways to make agriculture more attractive to young people. The reality is that Agriculture is one of the most important sectors of European Industry, and if we do not implement the appropriate measures to make it more sustainable we will not be able to deal with the challenges facing the industry. As someone from Ireland, a traditional farming country and being from a farming background (dairy and beef) I am acutely aware of these challenges and see them in action on a daily basis.

Earlier this month, the Youth of the European People’s Party (YEPP) held a Conference on the Future of Farming and Food Supply in Roeselare, part of the Flanders Region of Belgium. Roeselare is a dominantly rural, agricultural area, which is home to extensive fresh and frozen fruit and vegetable production and large scale pig farming. Due to the practical nature of farming, this conference allowed delegates from over 30 European youth political parties to take part in various agricultural site visits designed to give them a better knowledge of the farming industry. In order for young politicians to be able to seek to address the issues faced by farmers, it is vital that they would firstly have a real understanding of them.

The Council also held focused discussion forums with experts from different sectors of the agricultural industry looking at the current challenges faced by each, in particular from the point of view of generational renewal and sustainability. This conference provided delegates with a better understanding of the industry which is to be welcomed, as politicians of all ages need to take a more active approach to interacting with voters and speaking with them about the difficult decisions they face every day.

Putting this specialist knowledge to good use, the YEPP Council ratified an Agricultural Policy paper.This paper, which covers a range of agricultural issues such as Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) direct payments, greening measures, rural development and food production, seeks the introduction of digressive CAP payments, a changed definition of active farmers to those who actively farm in order to seek a living, the need for new models of collaboration between generations of farmers and greater access for young farmers to credit.

One cannot really speak about the sustainability of agriculture without discussing CAP, the cornerstone of European agriculture. Since its introduction in 1962, CAP has provided direct support to farmers as necessary. It has allowed farming to be both viable and sustainable. In an industry in which the market can so often be volatile, CAP provides much needed assistance to farmers. The CAP provisions are changed periodically and undergo review, revision and reform to address the consistently changing nature of agriculture. The CAP 2020 reforms, which are currently being completed, will provide the road map for the development of agriculture over the coming years and it is imperative that these reforms propel agriculture in the right direction.

The European Commission proposal for the future of food and farming seeks to introduce a “smarter, modern and [more] sustainable” CAP. Whilst these objectives are to be commended, these new reforms must also seek to implement a greener CAP, a fairer CAP, and a CAP which ensures that financial support is given to those farmers who are most in need of it.

Whilst the impending Brexit will cause a hole in the CAP budget of almost 3 billion euros, the decrease in CAP funding as proposed by the European Commission’s Multi Financial Framework (MFF) needs to be reviewed. The proposal, as outlined by Commissioner Oettinger and Commissioner Hogan, would see the CAP budget decrease by between five to 10 percent (approximately six percent), and CAP direct payments decreased by 3.92 percent in each member state. YEPP has called on the European Commission to conduct an assessment into the effects of reducing the CAP budget on farmers and agricultural employment and has also sought that the European Commission would revisit the current CAP reduction proposal as outlined in the MFF.

Agriculture is an issue which must be considered by young people as vitally important. It is a topic on which many are disengaged, but we cannot afford to let this be the case. As young Europeans, we must look for solutions to the challenges of climate change, land mobility and generational renewal. If the number of young farmers in Europe remains as low as current levels, we could potentially be facing a food production crisis in the near future. It is our duty to ensure that this possibility does not become a reality.