Of the 10.3 million farms in the EU, two thirds are less than 5 ha in size
Only 11% of farm managers are under 40 years old
A little over 171 million hectares of land in the European Union (EU) were used for agricultural production in 2016, about 40% of the EU’s total land area. This supported about 10.3 million farms and farm managers.
Although numerous, most of the EU’s farms were small in nature, two-thirds being less than 5 hectares (ha) in size.
In contrast, the 3% of EU farms of 100 ha or more in size worked over half of the EU’s utilised agricultural area. Only 11% of farm managers in the EU were younger than 40 years old, in contrast to one third (32%) who were 65 years of age or older.
This information, published by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, comes from provisional results for the 2016 EU Farm Structure Survey and is the latest snapshot available. This survey helps better understand the structure of agricultural holdings in the EU, important for the Common Agricultural Policy.
Farming in the EU is broadly characterised by three distinct groups: (i) subsistence farming, where the focus is on growing a majority of food to feed farmers and their families (ii) small and medium-sized holdings that are generally family-run businesses and (ii) large agricultural enterprises.
Romania has one third of the EU’s farms but they tend to be small in size
One third of the EU’s farms were located in Romania in 2016 (33%), another third being found in Poland (14%),
Italy (10%, 2013) and Spain (9%).
Although numerous, most of the EU’s farms were small in nature; 65% of EU farms were less than 5 ha in size. However, the 7% of farms that were of 50 ha or more in size worked a little over two-thirds (68%) of the EU’s utilised agricultural area (UAA). So although the mean size of an agricultural holding in the EU was 16.6 ha in 2016, the median was under 5 ha.
Among Member States, this distribution was most contrasting in Romania; nine in every ten farms (92% or 3.1 million farms) were smaller than 5 ha, but the 0.5% of farms of 50 ha or more in size farmed half (51%) of all the UAA in the country.
Larger farms (of 50 hectares or more) were much more common in Luxembourg (52% of farms), France (41%), the United Kingdom (39%) and Denmark (35%). In most Member States, a majority of UAA was concentrated on the largest farms (50 ha or more in size).
Just over half of EU turnover in agriculture came from France, Germany, Italy and Spain
Contrasts in the size of farms were also reflected in terms of their economic size. Of the EU’s 10.3 million farms, 4.0 million had a standard output below EUR 2 000 and were responsible for only 1% of total agricultural economic output. The 296 000 farms (or 3% of all holdings) in the EU that each produced a standard output of EUR 250 000 or more were responsible for a majority (55%) of the EU’s total agricultural economic output in 2016.
About one half (54%) of the standard output generated by agriculture in the EU was from farms in France (17%), Germany (13%), Italy (12% in 2013) and Spain (11%) in 2016. Although Romania accounted for about one third of the EU’s farms, they accounted for only 3.4 % of the EU’s standard output.
France, Spain, the United Kingdom and Germany together account for half of EU`s agricultural land
France used 27.8 million hectares for agricultural purposes in 2016, the largest of any Member State (16% of EU total). A further 23.2 million hectares were farmed in Spain (14%), 16.7 million hectares in the United Kingdom (10%), 15.2 million hectares in Germany (9%) and 14.4 million hectares in Poland (8%).
Agricultural landscapes dominated the countryside in some Member States; upwards of two-thirds of the land area of the United Kingdom (69%) and Ireland (72%) was used as agricultural land and the share was also particularly high in Denmark (62%). This was in stark contrast to Finland (8%) and Sweden (7%) where forest dominated the landscape, as well as Cyprus (12%).
Farming: a male dominated profession with relatively few young farmers
There were 10.3 million people working as farm managers in the EU in 2016.
The average age of farmers is very much at the older end of the age spectrum; one third (32%) of farm managers in
the EU were 65 years of age or more. Only 11% of farm managers in the EU were young farmers under the age of 40 years.Young farmers were particularly few and far between in Cyprus (3.3% of all farm managers), Portugal (4.2%) and the United Kingdom (5.3%). They were more common in Austria (22.2%), Poland (20.3%) and Slovakia (19.0%).
Nevertheless, the youngest farm managers tended to have bigger farms in terms of area, livestock and standard output than the oldest ones (over 65 years of age).
The farming profession is dominated by men, with only about three in ten (29%) EU farm managers being women. The proportion of young farm managers who were women was lower still (23%).
Methods and definitions
The data source is the basic Farm structure survey (FSS), also known as Survey on the structure of agricultural holdings. The FSS is carried out every 3 or 4 years by all EU Member States. The FSS are conducted consistently throughout the EU with a common methodology and provide therefore comparable and representative statistics across countries and time, down to regional levels. EU Member States collect information from individual agricultural holdings covering land use, livestock numbers, rural development, management and farm labour input (including the age, gender and relationship to the holder of the agricultural holding). Data can also be broken down by size class, area status, legal status of the holding and farm type.
An agricultural holding is a single unit, in both technical and economic terms, operating under a single management, which undertakes agricultural activities within the economic territory of the European Union, either as its primary or secondary activity.
Other supplementary (non-agricultural) products and services may also be provided by the holding. Utilised agricultural area describes the area used for farming. It includes the following land categories: arable land, permanent grassland, permanent crops, other agricultural land such as kitchen gardens (even if they only represent small areas of total utilised agricultural area). The term does not include unused agricultural land, woodland and land occupied by buildings, farmyards, tracks, ponds, etc.
It should be noted that some methodological changes, such as coverage, thresholds and inclusion of common land, were introduced in some Member States for the FSS 2010 onwards, which limit comparability with previous surveys (for more information, see Eurostat Statistics Explained article “Farm structure survey – thresholds”).
EU data on distribution of farms according to their size include 2013 data for Italy. There are also some differences in the threshold applied by some Member States, often to exclude the very smallest agricultural holdings which together contribute2% or less to the total UAA excluding common land, and 2% or less to the total number of farm livestock units.