Family farming as we know it is under threat and this may be the last generation of EU family farmers, according to Sinn Féin MEP Chris MacManus, who raised concerns over land concentration and called for a larger safety net for small farms.
“I am very concerned this will be the last generation of family farmers in the EU,” he told EURACTIV, adding that we really are “against the clock” to take action to save the EU family farming model.
“These are people with families and for many, it means an end to a way of life that they have carried on for generations”.
Citing agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski, who recently pointed out that up to 1,000 farmers per day decide to leave the profession due to unprofitability, Macmanus added that understanding the gravity of this on mental health may go some way to explain why on average a farmer in France commits suicide every two days.
As for the culprit of the demise of small family farms, the Irish MEP, who is also one of the parliament negotiators on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) horizontal regulation, highlighted concerns over land concentration, which he said is increasing at an “alarming rate”.
This is due to small farmers being forced to abandon the land as it becomes chronically unprofitable, he explained, which is then purchased by large enterprises, such as processors and supermarkets, resulting in rapid consolidation.
Highlighting that the COVID crisis has compounded the concentration of market power already seen in the sector, MacManus warned that a “combination of lacking economies of scale and bearing the brunt of supermarket price wars has made it almost impossible for small farmers to hold on”.
‘Crisis waiting to happen’
MacManus also reserved criticism for the CAP and its role in supporting small farmers.
Warning that the combination of farmers selling their produce below the cost of production and shrinking EU subsidies is a “crisis waiting to happen,” he said that in order to salvage some credibility for the CAP, it must deploy a safety net to keep small to medium farms viable.
This includes weighting payments to offer more support for the first number of hectares, with a lower and uniform payment for the remaining hectares, which would benefit small farmers.
To control the market, the new unfair trading practices directive must be strengthened further, he added, proposing an EU-wide ban on below-cost selling by supermarkets which he says “undermines small grocers and customer perception of the true price of a litre of milk or kilo of beef”.