Small farms are a crucial element of the European agricultural system which is characterized by smallholding farmers. In the European Union and many other regions, the term “small farm” is often associated with the size of the agricultural holding in terms of land area.
more than three-quarters of EU farm holdings are small, with many being below 10 hectares and a large number below five hectares. This aligns with a common understanding of small farms in Europe.
However, it’s essential to note that the definition of a small farm can be flexible and may consider various factors, not just land size. These factors can include the level of production, income, the role of the farm in the local economy, and its contribution to sustainable farming practices.
The challenges faced by small farms are significant and have implications for the agricultural and rural landscapes of Europe. The many challenges are related to some key points such as: contribution to food production which means that small farms are essential for producing a significant portion of the healthy and diverse food consumed daily in Europe, they often play a crucial role in supplying local and regional markets with fresh, high-quality produce; local job creation which indicates that small farms are sources of employment in rural areas, they help sustain local economies by providing jobs and supporting livelihoods, contributing to the economic and social fabric of rural communities; also resilience of food system which means that small farms can enhance the resilience of the food system diversifying production methods and local focus can reduce vulnerabilities to supply chain disruptions and foster food security. Furthermore, some barriers make it difficult for small farms to survive. These obstacles are: the competition with Agro-Businesses which means that small farms struggle to compete with large multinational agro-businesses, which often have economies of scale, access to advanced technologies, and substantial resources; the land grabbing that is to say small farms are vulnerable to land grabbing, where their land is taken over by large entities or investors, which can threaten their viability and disrupt local communities; the lack of public support that indicates that small farms may face challenges in securing public support, they may be perceived as outdated or unviable, leading to reduced access to government programs and subsidies; lastly the higher production costs which affectes the small farms in relatively higher production costs per unit, which can burden farm income and make it difficult to sustain agricultural activities.
These challenges point to the need for policy measures and support mechanisms to address the specific needs of small farms. Initiatives like the European Green Deal, with its Farm-to-Fork Strategy, aim to promote sustainability and fairness in food systems, but there is often a gap between policy goals and their implementation. Strategies to support small farms may include subsidies, technical assistance, access to markets, and incentives for sustainable and local food production, among other measures, to help these farms thrive and continue their vital contributions to the European agricultural landscape. And all these measures should be built without ignoring the contexts and beneficiaries.
European political priorities should be oriented towards a greater inclusion of young farmers in decision-making processes. Currently, political choices are made in consultation tables with public institutions and trade unions. This means that the opinions and needs of the direct beneficiaries of the measures in the rural area, i.e. young farmers, are not adequately represented.
To overcome this problem, it would be crucial to create a permanent observatory made up of young and old farmers from all the countries of the European Union. This body would have the task of addressing common issues, analyzing how a specific problem has been treated in a country and offering appropriate solutions. Share knowledge, experiences and best practices would allow them to address common challenges more effectively and stimulate the development of a more integrated and resilient European agriculture
As digital transition, green transition and demographic transition are transformations that will profoundly affect society in several aspects, above all, the employment structure in the near future, the exploitation of young farmers in the decision-making process would have numerous advantages. First of all, it would allow the development of more effective agricultural policies aimed at the real needs of the sector. Furthermore, it would stimulate innovation and encourage generational turnover within agricultural companies, thus ensuring the sustainable future of the sector. It would also make it possible to address current and future challenges more effectively, such as climate change, the promotion of sustainable agricultural practices and the adoption of digital technologies in agriculture.
It is of course necessary to carry out actions aimed also at guaranteeing good profitability of rural companies, in order to avoid the risk of depopulation and ensure a constant presence in the territory. Only through this concerted and shared approach it will be possible to preserve and protect local natural and territorial resources, while simultaneously promoting a virtuous process of tourism enhancement, and guarantee the prosperity of European farms and rural communities.