The lack of generational change, much more pronounced in Spain than in the rest of Europe, is one of the main challenges facing the agricultural sector, given that more than 40% of current farm managers will retire during the next 10 years. The incorporation of 200,000 young people over the next decade will be essential to guarantee the viability of the countryside, where small farms, led by elderly men, continue to predominate. It is not the only challenge to be faced by the primary sector, which needs to take additional steps to increase the presence and weight of women in the activity and, above all, to promote training and greater professionalization, in line with what is happening. in other surrounding countries.
The snapshot offered by the latest edition of the Agri-Food sector report prepared by CaixaBank Research shows a sector where more than half of the farms have 5 hectares or less, with livestock farms being larger than agricultural farms. Although the average production reaches 49,600 euros per year per farm, in 63% of them the yield does not reach 15,000 euros per year. The document, which ‘La Información’ advances, shows how the owner of the same tends to be, in the vast majority of cases, the head of the farm, a man (71%) and of advanced age, given that slightly less than half, 41%, are over 65 years old. The exception would be in the regions of the Cantabrian coast, which have a higher proportion of women and better prospects for generational change.
The analysis, which takes data from the last agrarian census of the National Institute of Statistics, shows how Spain is a country where agricultural holdings clearly dominate in number (they account for more than 80% of the total), but they barely represent half of the useful surface area. . and production. In fact, they reach 30,128 euros for the exploitation of resources, compared to 135,225 euros for livestock farms. The Spanish countryside is populated mainly by olive groves, fruit and citrus trees, and cereals and legumes. The latter, along with sheep, goats and cattle, are, however, those that occupy more than half of the total surface, although they are the poultry and pork sectors, in the case of livestock farmers, and horticulture, in the agricultural sector. . the most productive per hectare.
Spanish farms, less productive
This issue, that of productivity, shows notable differences in relation to other agricultural sectors in Europe, such as those of Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands. They are more productive systems, with a greater proportion of large farms and a higher yield per farm. Eurostat, the European statistics office, places average productivity at 2,230 euros per hectare in the EU-27, compared to 1,887 euros in Spain. This amount is far from the 2,351 euros of yield achieved per hectare in France, the 2,812 euros in Germany, the 4,702 euros in Italy and is light years away from the 13,683 euros in the Netherlands.
Although in the rest of Europe the farm managers are also mostly men, as in Spain (68% on average in the EU), the generational change is not as worrying, given that they have a greater proportion of people under 45 years of age and less . over 65, except in the case of Italy. At a territorial level, small farms dominate in the Canary Islands, the Valencian Community and Galicia; while the largest ones are mostly concentrated in Castilla y León, and Aragón. On the other hand, autonomous communities such as Murcia, Catalonia or Aragon have farms with high production, exceeding 80,000 euros per installation, which places them at levels very close to those of other European economies.
A simple road trip across the country helps draw the map of specializations by product. Andalusia accounts for more than 60% of olive groves, the Valencian Community accounts for 45% of fruit and citrus crops, and the two Castiles account for 62% of cereals and legumes. The countryside in Catalonia, Galicia, Castilla y León and Andalusia has a majority presence of livestock farms; While some regions stand out for their specialization in a single sector, as is the case with viticulture in La Rioja.
Since the end of the 1980s, the number of agricultural holdings has been reduced by around 43% in Spain to around 914,871. This process has been accompanied by strong growth in productivity. Thus, the yield of the agricultural area used has doubled since 1990, going from 1,165 euros per useful hectare then to 2,400 euros today. This greater productivity is seen even more in terms of agricultural income per annual work unit (AUT), which has tripled since then to exceed 32,300 euros in 2020.
The financial crisis, a before and after for the agricultural sector
Without needing to go that far back in time, the last financial crisis marked a before and after for the Spanish economy in many aspects, and this turning point was also perceived in the countryside, where activity has been more concentrated. Throughout these years, mainly small farms with lower turnover have disappeared. They have closed 10% of those with less than 5 hectares and 20% of those that earn less than 4,000 euros a year. At the same time, the largest ones have been gaining weight, so that those with a turnover of more than 500,000 euros per year have increased in number by 75%.
This has allowed the sector to gain efficiency and innovation, by being able to allocate more resources and technologies to the development of its activity. By activities, since 2009 only farms dedicated to greenhouse horticulture, viticulture and olive groves have increased. The fact that the first of them are one of the sectors with the highest production per farm explains, to a large extent, why the Spanish agricultural sector has improved in recent years in terms of productivity.
Although women have been gaining weight at the head of the farms, and have come to represent 29% from the 22% they represented at the beginning of the Great Crisis, this continues to be one of the great pending issues in the field. The training of farm managers is also important, since only 4.1% have professional agricultural training (compared to 1.5% at the beginning of the period). In what has to do with the lack of generational change, which in the Spanish case affects the agricultural sector but also transport, commerce, construction or Public Administrations, among others, only 14% of those responsible for the farms are less than 45 years old and the problem is more pronounced in regions such as Andalusia, Castilla y León or Extremadura.
“The new CAP is going to allocate more than 220 million in aid to young people, the largest amount in its history”
On balance, the Spanish agricultural sector “is evolving towards greater productivity, concentrating activity on fewer and fewer farms, but increasingly larger proportionally and with a greater economic dimension,” maintains the CaixaBank Research report. However, despite the increase in productivity in the Spanish agricultural sector in recent years, the average size of farms is still modest when compared to other European economies with an agricultural system of a similar size.
“The greatest gains in productivity should be aimed at enhancing the presence of the Spanish sector, such as olive groves, fruit trees, and cereals and legumes, which account for 60% of Spanish agricultural holdings, adds the document. To this you can contribute to the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which will allocate more than 220 million euros in specific aid for young people, the largest amount for this objective in its six decades of history.