5 April 2002

France gets lions share of youth aid

OVER half the aid paid out by Brussels to encourage young people to set up in agriculture goes to France while British farmers get nothing, a study by EU statistics agency Eurostat has revealed.

According to the report, k2.7bn (£1.66bn) was paid out in the EU to help the under-40s start farming from 1990 to 1997, which benefited some 260,000 young farmers.

"But the aid was concentrated on a few countries, with France accounting for 57% of the total aid transferred and 37% of the beneficiaries," says Eurostat. France is followed by Belgium, Spain and Germany as the next biggest supporters of new entrants.

In stark contrast, the aid to young farmers in the UK amounted to zero, the only country other than Holland not to make any use of the EUs system of grants and interest rate subsidies.

The report also notes that, while the number of young farmers has declined, this has been in line with the overall drop in the farm workforce. As such, 22% of EU farm workers are under 35 – the same proportion as in 1980.

There are important regional differences. Denmark has the youngest agricultural workforce, with over 35% of those employed in the industry under 35 years old. &#42

In contrast, Portugal has the oldest workforce, with 52% over 55 years old.

The UK is also singled out for its rapidly ageing farm workforce. Even though the overall workforce is still younger than the European average, the trend during the 1980s and 1990s was sharply upwards as fewer young people came into the industry.

&#8226 Irish farm minister Joe Walsh is applying to Brussels to get the 150 income unit ceiling removed for young farmers applying for installation aid. Describing the scheme as "critical" for getting young people into farming, Mr Walsh says he is determined to simplify things.

Farm unions welcomed the move, but called on the minister to increase payment rates from the current k9525/year (£5860) towards the EU maximum of k25,000/year (£15,375).