This month’s column from CEJA (European Council of Young Farmers) features an interview with Iris Bouwers, one of the organisation’s newly-elected Vice Presidents.
MF: How did you become involved in farming and what type of farming are you involved in now?
IB: As a little girl, growing up on a mixed farm, I wanted to become a vet. But as I got older, I found my talents could be found in the field of business. I therefore decided to study agribusiness instead. It was at university that I realised I wanted to be a farmer through the programme and its content but also through my fellow students. My parents never expected me to want to become involved in the family business but having been so for a year-and-a-half now, I can happily say we are working very well together! On the family farm, we raise 1,250 pigs and grow six different crops on 120 ha.
MF: Do you think it is more difficult for aspiring young farmers who don’t come from a family farm to enter the sector? Why?
IB: Definitely. I do not believe family farm take-over is easy, but I believe the distance towards successful farming without opportunities within the family is big. Throughout Europe we see young farmers with limited access to land and credit. When you are starting with little or no seed money and no farm, entering the sector is difficult. Fortunately the current generation of young farmers is innovative and often finds a way, but it is nevertheless very hard.
MF: As a female young farmer, how do you see your position in the agricultural sector? What can be done to attract more women to farming?
IB: Farming is a way of life, both for men and women. The fact that not many women are head of the business on farms does not bother me. I believe this is often an individual choice and everyone is managing his or her farm in their own way. I think female farmers are just as talented or suited to farm life as men. Personally, I do not believe NGOs or governments should put a lot of effort into attracting more women to farming. I just hope that not only the women but also the men in the sector realise they can do the same job, as long as they are using their talents.
MF: What drew you to the young farmers’ movement and why is it important?
IB: I started off as the international representative of the Dutch young farmers’ association. Before that, I was already involved in (agricultural) politics. When it comes to policy, I noticed quite quickly that most fundamental choices about agriculture are made at European level. So if I wanted to change something, if I really want to make a change for young farmers, I needed to do this at the European level. Young farmers are the future. They will be responsible for feeding the world in a rapidly developing and changing system. They therefore need proper and organised representation in order to make sure we not only have farmers now but also in 30 years.
MF: How long have you been involved with CEJA and what does your current role as CEJA Vice President entail?
IB: I got elected just a few months ago and my mandate is for two years. In my current role as Vice President I am focusing on topics like international relations, and direct payments and greening in the Common Agricultural Policy. Together with my colleague, Tomáš Ignác Fénix, I am taking care of updating the decision-making process. These are all great challenges, both inside and outside the organisation.
MF: As CEJA Vice President what would you like to achieve?
IB: There are many challenges ahead of us. Think of Brexit, the sustainability goals of the Paris Agreement and possible new trade treaties. Young farmers will have to find a way to cope with those challenges and I hope CEJA can facilitate that. Moreover, I want CEJA to be strongly involved in the creation of the new Common Agricultural Policy. I hope that we, as the board, can provide the European Commission with the right information and feedback so that young farmers can really develop themselves and get better and more goal-oriented support from the European Union.
If you would like to get in contact with Iris Bouwers or CEJA, email: email@example.com
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