Summary report on basic characteristics of the Agriculture Sector in Europe

Introduction



The information in this chapter, is based on a comparative study from L. Chivu, C. Constantin and D. Preda (2005) for the European Foundation for Working and Living Conditions. This comparative study examined industrial relations in the agriculture sector (defined as NACE sector 01) in 23 European Union (EU) Member States (Luxembourg and Portugal being the exceptions), plus two candidate countries (Bulgaria and Romania) and Norway. The results are based mainly on contributions from the European Industrial Relations Observatory (EIRO) national centres in the countries concerned.

Basic employment and economic data on agriculture



% of total employment and contribution to gross domestic product


In table 1, data regarding % of total employment and contribution to gross domestic product (GDP) are presented per EU country and EU in general.

Table 1. Agriculture - total employment, contribution to GDP and productivity compared with national average, 2003(MS = Member State; NMS = new Member State; CC = candidate country.)



Source: industrial relations (EUROFOUND …), data from European Commission (Agriculture in the European Union; Statistical and Economic Information 2004, Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development, February 2005) and EIRO.

The national distribution of employment in agriculture is extremely uneven. There are 5.8 million people employed in agriculture in the 13 'old' Member States considered, where employment in agriculture makes up only 3.6% of total employment ranging from 1,2 in the UK to 16,3 in Greece. In the 10 new Member States, agriculture provides jobs for about 3.6 million people - an average of 12.4% of total employment, ranging from 4,5 in the Czech Republic to 18% in Lithuania.

Gender & agriculture


Table 2. Employment in agriculture, total and by gender, 2003



Source: based on data from European Commission (Agriculture in the European Union; Statistical and Economic Information 2004, Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development, February 2005).

The structure of agricultural employment by gender also varies substantially. Men make up the majority of agricultural employment in all countries, but the extent of their predominance differs, from 55% or less of the total in Austria, Slovenia and Romania, to 75% or more in Denmark, Ireland, Sweden, the UK, Hungary and Malta.

Full and part-time employment and self-employed


Table 3. The structure of employment in agriculture by age, full-/part-time and employment status, % of total employment in agriculture, 2003




Source: based on data from European Commission (Agriculture in the European Union; Statistical and Economic Information 2004, Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development, February 2005).
Unemployment

The share of part-time employment in agriculture in the countries covered by the study averages 19%, compared with a whole-economy average for the EU 25 of 17% in 2003 (Eurostat figure).
In 2003, of all people in (full-time) employment in the EU 25, some 15.5% were self-employed (according to Eurostat). This is an area where agriculture is distinctive, as in the EU Member States and candidate countries examined here some 72% of all those in employment in agriculture are self-employed and only 28% are employees.

The agriculture social partners


In many cases, there is no clear line of demarcation between trade unions and employers’ organisations in agriculture. Many farmers’ professional organisations promote interests that in other sectors are defended by trade unions. This reflects the prevalence of self-employment in the sector, with employees in the minority in most countries. In this section, therefore, while an attempt is made to distinguish between trade unions and employers' organisations, there is a degree of overlap with regard to some countries.

It should be mentioned that in some countries legislation regulates the establishment and operation of employers'/farmers'/owners’ and/or employees'/workers’ organisations in agriculture.

Trade unions


There is a variety of patterns of union representation of agricultural workers in the EU, often reflecting broader national patterns, but with some sector-specific features. Thus:

  • in some countries there is thus essentially a single union representing agricultural workers, often affiliated to the main national confederation - examples include the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, Malta, Slovakia and the UK;
  • in a second group of countries, agricultural workers are represented by two or more unions, divided along occupational lines, notably for blue-collar and white-collar (and sometimes also professional) workers, in some cases (but not all) affiliated to different, essentially occupational confederations - examples include Austria, Denmark (where blue-collar workers are represented by a number of unions, depending on their job or subsector), Finland (where white-collar workers are represented by a number of unions, depending on their job), Norway and Sweden; and
  • in a third group, agricultural workers' representation is broadly divided among rival trade unions, often affiliated to separate union confederations (usually divided, at least originally, on various ideological lines) - examples include Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, France, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and Spain.

The absence of specific agricultural workers' trade unions in most countries reflects the downward trend of employment in the sector.
Agriculture is a sector where small enterprises and self-employment are prevalent, with a relatively small number of employees in most cases. Furthermore, much work is temporary or seasonal, and farms are spread over wide geographical areas. These factors are not generally favourable to trade union organisation, and this is reflected that the number of agricultural trade union members is usually relatively small and the density/coverage rate below the national average or that of other sectors.

Employers’ organisations


Identifying employers' organisations in the sense that they exist in most other sectors is not always simple in agriculture. The majority of owners/farmers do not employ paid workers, and farmers and their families are often both workers in and organisers/managers/supervisors of, the family business. The result is that many farmers and farm-owners do not have employers' interests, as such, to promote and defend.
Focusing purely on employers' organisations, a feature in many countries is that the agricultural employers' interests are represented by separate structures, outside the 'mainstream' of employers' representation in most of the economy. Agricultural employers' organisations are not affiliated to the main national 'peak' employers' confederation(s).
Although figures are not available in many cases, agricultural employers’ organisations often represent a high proportion of employers, and in many countries organise a greater proportion of their potential constituency than trade unions. It is frequently the case that employers must join such organisations to have access to services or facilities.

Agricultural area



Utilised agricultural area (UAA) and cultivated area

The utilised agricultural area (UAA) and the area cultivated with crops, 41% and 20.3% in the current EU as a whole, vary widely as a proportion of the total area of each country ranging from 3,2% in Norway to 62,2% in Ireland and Romania.

Table 4 Total national areas, utilised agricultural area (UAA) and area cultivated with crops, 2003



Source: based on data from European Commission (Agriculture in the European Union; Statistical and Economic Information 2004, Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development, February 2005) and EIRO.

Crop production


Cereals are by far the most important group of agricultural crops in the countries examined. The area cultivated with cereal crops in the 26 countries totalled about 60.5 million hectares in 2003, of which wheat made up 29.9 million hectares, barley 14.3 million hectares and corn 9.2 million hectares.

The most extensive areas cultivated with cereal crops are found in France (9.3 million hectares). Wheat covers 5.6 million hectares in France, the leading barley cultivators is Spain (3.1 million hectares) and for corn this is Romania (2.9 millon hectares).

Table 5. Main crops, share of each in national cultivated area, and national shares of the total 25-country cultivated area for each crop, EU Member States and candidate countries, 2004




Source: based on data from European Commission (Agriculture in the European Union; Statistical and Economic Information 2004, Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development, February 2005) and EIRO.

Livestock production


In 2004, across the 26 countries examined, statistics indicate that there were 91.6 million cattle, 202.4 million pigs, 109.3 million sheep, 13.3 million goats, 3.9 million horses, 1,306.4 million poultry, 101.7 million rabbits, 8.4 million bee hives, 1.2 million mules and 0.5 million asses.

The three leading countries for each species are as follows: cattle - France (19.2 million), Germany (13.4 million) and the UK (10.5 million); pigs - the UK (50 million), Germany (26.5 million) and Spain (24 million); sheep - the UK (35.5 million), Spain (24 million) and Greece (9 million); goats - Greece (5.4 million), Spain and France (both 1.3 million); and poultry - France (260 million), UK (181.1 million and Spain (129 million). To get an overall picture, the numbers of the various species of livestock can be converted into 'conventional livestock units' (CLUs), calculated as the sum of the results obtained by multiplying livestock numbers by coefficients for the various species (for cattle 0.85, pigs 0.3, sheep and goats 0.09, horses 1.0, asses and mules 0.9, rabbits 0.07 and poultry 0.05). Using this method, the 26 countries considered had a total of 162.2 million CLUs in 2004, of which 28.2 million were in the UK, 23.5 million in France, 20.7 million in Germany, 16.3 million in Spain, 10.9 million in Italy and 10.8 million in Poland -
The average density of livestock, expressed in CLUs per 1,000 inhabitants and CLUs per 100 hectares of UAA indicates an extremely varied distribution by countries. In terms of density expressed in CLU/1,000 inhabitants, Ireland is at the top of the list (1,946.5 CLU/1,000 inhabitants), followed at a great distance by Denmark (1026.2) and at a further considerable distance by the UK (476). Measured as CLU/100 hectares of UAA, the highest livestock density is found in the Netherlands (373.7) and Belgium (316.7), while the lowest are in Bulgaria (29.8) and Lithuania (31.4).


Figure 1 Livestock density (CLU/1000 inhabitants)



Figure 2 Livestock density (CLU/100 hectares of UAA)



Number, structure and average size of farms

In 2003, the total number of farms in the EU and the two candidate countries considered was about 15.2 million - see table below. In the past 10 years, the number of farms in these countries has declined by around 2.5 million.

In the EU 25, the number of farms declined by 20%-25%, with the greatest rate of disappearance in NMSs in central and eastern Europe (for example, with falls of 30% in Poland, 43% in Estonia, 47% in Latvia and 49% in Lithuania). In the old Member States, the most significant reductions in the number of farms have been registered in Germany, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain and France. Over 1998-2003, the number of farms in Norway also decreased, by 18%. According to the available data, it seems that the only old Member State where the number of farms has grown is the UK (to 281,000 in 2003 from 243,000 in 1993).

Table 6. Number of farms, average size and structure by size categories, 2003



The average size of farms varies widely: 1 hectare in Malta; 2 hectares in Romania; 3.5 hectares in Cyprus; 5.6 hectares in Hungary; 6.3 hectares in Slovenia; 7 hectares in Poland; 17 hectares in Austria; 23-25 hectares in the Netherlands and Belgium; 32 hectares in Ireland; 40-45 hectares in France and Germany; 46 hectares in Sweden; 55-57 hectares in Denmark and the UK; and 66 hectares in Czech Republic.

Broadly speaking, the average size of farms grows as one moves from east to west.

Source: based on data from European Commission (Agriculture in the European Union; Statistical and Economic Information 2004, Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development, February 2005) and EIRO.

Mechanisation, chemical fertilizers/pesticides and IT systems use


In general, the degree of mechanisation in agriculture is closely linked to the size of the farm; as a rule, in countries where the average agricultural area per farm is small, farmers do not have the financial resources necessary to buy much farming machinery. For certain activities they may resort to companies specialised in agricultural services.

In central and eastern European countries, change in land ownership in recent years was followed by a reduction in the degree of mechanisation and in the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

All countries are engaged in raising the degree of mechanisation, including the use of robots and automatic equipment in animal husbandry, while striving to decrease and even eliminate entirely the use of pesticides that have a negative impact on the environment and on the health of humans and livestock.

The development of information technology (IT) use in farming has been notable in some cases: in Germany, farm households are currently above the national average in the use of computers, the internet and mobile telephony; in France the agricultural IT budget registers an annual growth of 7%; in Belgium, a third of farms use computers and a quarter are connected to the internet; in Denmark, there is a national database and software dedicated to animal husbandry; in the Netherlands, computers are reportedly part of everyday life on farms; in the Czech Republic, over two-thirds of farms are connected to the internet; in Norway, IT is used on a large scale, as it is in Sweden; and in Poland, 17.1% of farm households have computers, 4.8% have access to the internet and 35% use mobile telephony.

In recent years, the share of (bio)organic farming is growing in terms of number of farms and cultivated area.

Summary


Summary of the main characteristics of the countries concerned in our project:

Belgium
Of all farms, 70.6% are operated full time and 93%-94% are individually owned and operated farms - the rest are public or semi-public enterprises.

Poland
Some 99.9% of farms are privately owned, and only 74.2% of all farms are active in agriculture, of which 20.4% are subsistence farms and 79.6% are commercial. Of commercial farms, 4.7% own less than 1 hectare, 14% own less than 2 hectares and 95% have under 15-20 hectares. Of the total number of farms, 45.3% are specialised.

Sweden
In 2004, there were 130,800 farms, of which 94% had no employees. In 2002. there were 71,000 farms with an area of over 2 hectares; of these, 52.9% fully owned the farmland, 14.7% used leased farmland and 45.7% exploited the land in a mixed system (the figures include fishery and hunting operations).

UK
The total number of farms grew from 243,000 in 1993 to 281,000 in 2003 and the average farm size fell from 67.3 hectares to 57.4 hectares. In 2002, in England only (excluding Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland), there were 65,100 farms, with an average size of 127 hectares and an average annual income of EUR 102,000. Of these, 43.9% were small farms with an average size of 50 hectares, 32% were medium-sized farms with an average size of 111 hectares, and 24.1% were large-scale farms with an average size of 290 hectares.

Sweden
In 2004, there were 130,800 farms, of which 94% had no employees. In 2002. there were 71,000 farms with an area of over 2 hectares; of these, 52.9% fully owned the farmland, 14.7% used leased farmland and 45.7% exploited the land in a mixed system (the figures include fishery and hunting operations).

Industrial relations in agriculture