'Little evidence to show that EU supports for young farmers actually work'

The level of aid can be further enhanced where a Young Farmer is part of such a collaborative arrangement.. Stock photo
The level of aid can be further enhanced where a Young Farmer is part of such a collaborative arrangement.. Stock photo
Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

EU support for young farmers is too often poorly defined, with no results or impact specified, according to a new report from the European Court of Auditors.

The auditors call for the support to be better targeted in order to foster effective generational renewal in the sector.

The audit focused on the four EU Member States with the most spending on young farmers (i.e. those under 40 years of age): France, Spain, Poland and Italy.

The auditors found significant differences between the management of “Pillar 1” payments, which provide an additional 25pc to young farmers on top of direct payments, and “Pillar 2” payments made to young farmers setting up for the first time.

For Pillar 1, the aid is not based on a sound needs assessment, does not reflect the general objective of encouraging generational renewal, is not always provided to young farmers in need and is sometimes provided to holdings where young farmers play only a minor role.

Member States do not coordinate Pillar 1 payments with Pillar 2 support to young farmers. Aid is provided in a standardised form which does not address specific needs other than additional income. The common monitoring and evaluation framework contains no result indicators.

While Pillar 2 is generally based on a vague needs assessment, its objectives do partially reflect the general objective of encouraging generational renewal. The aid addresses more directly young farmers’ needs for access to land, capital and knowledge.

The amount of aid is generally linked to needs and modulated as an incentive for specific actions (e.g. introducing organic farming, water- or energy-saving initiatives).

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Business plans are useful tools but were of variable quality across the Member States audited. Managing authorities did not always apply selection procedures that lent themselves to prioritising the best projects.

“Effective support for young farmers is vital if farming is to be sustainable over the generations,” said Janusz Wojciechowski, the Member of the European Court of Auditors responsible for the report.

“But we found little evidence about the outcome of these measures and whether they actually help young farmers, mainly because of insufficient targeting and low quality indicators.”

Although selection criteria for projects were introduced late in the 2007-2013 period, they did not make it possible to prioritise the best projects because the minimum thresholds were either too low or non-existent.

 In some Member States, the budget was used up right at the start of the programming period, preventing farmers who set up later from receiving funds.

“To make the aid effective, the EU and the Member States must first better define who they wish to

support and what should be the expected result of the European assistance and then concentrate on measuring the progress achieved,” added Mr Wojciechowski.

The auditors recommend that the European Commission and the Member States:

  • improve their intervention logic by reinforcing the needs assessment and defining objectives which reflect the objective of fostering generational renewal;
  • better target measures through improved project selection and the use of business plans;
  • improve monitoring and evaluation by drawing on best practices developed by Member States.

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