The lack of generational renewal in the agricultural sector is a common trend in all European states and is one of the biggest challenges in the sustainability of agri-food production and the rural population. The latest European data illustrate a downward trend in the agricultural population below 35 years, which has dropped from 6% to 5.3% between 2013 and 2016, indicating a very low percentage of young population and a declining trend of farmers in this group.
The data on the evolution of the agricultural sector reveals a twofold problem. On the one hand, there is an increasingly older agricultural population lacking dynamic succession in family farming to ensure the continuity of the sector, and on the other, a new generation with no farming background which is interested in developing agricultural projects. Researchers Zagata and Sutherland analysed these dynamics in Europe and highlighted a “young farmer problem”, a complex scenario in terms of social sustainability with clear consequences related to fundamental issues such as access to local food, territorial balance and generation of employment in the rural environment.
Ensuring and boosting the generational renewal in the agricultural sector is of paramount importance to the country. In the absence of inflow of people and companies with a clear determination to cultivate the land for food production and to be the protagonists of the rural areas where they live, the sector tends to decline and ceases to fulfil its multi-functional role. Therefore, an innovative project has been proposed in response to the emerging matters in recent years that includes the incorporation of new entrants to farming and the rejuvenation of active agricultural structures in Spain.
Experts have confirmed a change in the average profile of people entering the sector with no agricultural background, and often migrating from cities, which is important to ensure continuity and innovation in primary economic activities that are greatly affected by the lack of generational renewal. These new entrants require a different kind of support as compared to the traditional young farmers because, although often they have already received agricultural education, they lack practical experience and, in many cases, adequate means for access to land and other productive and commercial resources. Hence arises the need for the establishment of farm incubators, also known as incubator farms, farmer nurseries or incubators for agro-entrepreneurs in other countries. The emergence of new profiles requires policies, plans and programmes designed specifically to counter the demographic challenge involved in structuring the local agricultural sector.
At Europe's level, the study and implementation of the farm incubators for incorporation of people into the sector is of the utmost importance and was one of the proposals that emerged from the conclusions of the European Focus Group “New entrants into farming: Lessons to foster innovation and entrepreneurship” (2015-2016), promoted within the framework of the European Innovation Partnership (EIP-AGRI) which brought together 20 experts from all over Europe. In this context, France is one of the leading countries with its network of farm incubators, RENATA, which is composed of 77 active members and many others already in the process of incorporation.