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CEJA column, Issue 28, August 2016

In this month’s regular column Alan Jagoe, President of CEJA – the European Council of Young Farmers - discusses the 2016 CEJA General Assembly held in Brussels on 18-19 July

MF: What were some of the key issues under discussion at the General Assembly?

AJ: Although this is not an election year for CEJA (our Presidency elections take place every two years), we were keen to ensure that substantial progress on policy positions was made for the organisation as well as in our efforts to improve access to land and credit. On the first day, participating young farmer representatives launched into an extensive debate on the definitions of ‘active farmer’ and ‘young farmer’ with a view to improving them for future regulation, particularly in the next Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Considering the difference in regulations and law across varying Member States and sometimes even regions within them, such discussions can be challenging. However CEJA and its members are committed to an ambitious EU-level definition of active/young farmer in future. This is to ensure that agricultural income support targets those who need and deserve it, rather than some hobby farmers or sofa farmers, for whom agriculture may only be a negligible portion of their income/activity or who are not involved in the daily management of the farm. Following the discussion on how to target CAP direct payments better to ensure that they support the most active farmers across the EU, the CEJA secretariat will put together a basis for potential definitions to be further discussed later in the year. Also on the first day of the Assembly, it was also a great pleasure to welcome the Lithuanian Young Farmers’ Association to CEJA as a full member.

MF: One of the major elements of the General Assembly was your special conference ‘Opening the Farm Gates to the Future – Access to Land and Credit for Young Farmers’. What did this involve?

AJ: This event aimed to bring leading CEJA representatives from across Europe to engage with key institutions on these subjects in an attempt to find solutions to the challenges young farmers face in every single Member State today. This issue is more crucial than ever considering the scale of the current agricultural market crisis, bearing in mind that young farmers are the most at risk by being disproportionately hit by such price volatility.

MF: Who were the guest speakers?

AJ: We invited the Head of the Agri-Business Division at the European Investment Bank (EIB), Dr Hans-Harald Jahn, to explain what the EIB has to offer in terms of access to credit for young people in farming. He was joined by Agricultural Economist at the Belgian-based bank KBC, Jan Leyten, to explain what national banks, and KBC in particular, currently have to offer young farmers and how they would like to move forward with such instruments. Austin Finn, Programme Manager at best practice initiative for access to land in Ireland, the Land Mobility Service, also participated in the panel. He explained just how crucial young farmers are to local rural economies and communities and how important it is to establish frameworks to ensure young farmers can access land. This includes partnering them with older farmers and ensuring that land is passed on to the younger generation.

MF: European Commissioner for Agriculture, Phil Hogan was also at the meeting. What did he have to say?

AJ: The Commissioner acknowledged the need for more measures targeting young farmers, especially in improving access to land and credit, calling on the EIB to do more and on young farmers to support the EIB in their rollout of financial instruments. Commissioner Hogan pledged his support for young farmers, promising to do everything he can “within the limits of what is legally and financially possible” to attract and maintain young people in the sector. This was followed by a lively hour-long debate between the Commissioner, the panel and young farmers when they discussed the challenges at hand and how best to overcome them today and in future.

MF: Was the CEJA event widely reported in the media?

AJ: It was covered well in the Brussels media and agricultural news, giving more visibility to the challenges young farmers face every day and hopefully raising awareness of the importance of supporting them to overcome these in future policy instruments. CEJA young farmers were able to engage with the Commissioner directly and discuss the feasibility of many ideas to increase generational renewal in the sector, a fulfilling experience for all involved.

MF: Were you pleased with the outcome of the General Assembly?

AJ: When I was elected CEJA President at the General Assembly 2015 at EXPO Milan, I wasn’t sure how we were going to top it. However, the high level of interest among media and stakeholders, the considerable number of young farmers who travelled from across Europe to attend and the high-profile speakers who were there, I think I can safely say that CEJA members were delighted with the result.

Find out more in CEJA’s press release on the event.

If you would like to get in touch with Alan Jagoe, email allusers@ceja.eu

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