Farm land in Europe: How to ensure fair ownership?

Written by Maria Noichl on 21 February 2018 in Opinion

The selling-off of agricultural land started several years ago, but since the 2008 financial crisis poured more oil onto an already blazing fire, it’s been burning brightly in Europe, writes Maria Noichl.

Maria Noichl | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

Did you know that 2.7 per cent of businesses own over 50 per cent of Europe’s agricultural land? Often, these are not simply large agricultural holdings. They can also be proprietors with no involvement in agriculture, under the umbrella of ’businesses’, buying many hectares of agricultural land in Europe, across national borders, at prices often unaffordable to farmers and behind the backs of the local population. The financial crisis and low interest rates are just two of the reasons behind this. 

Agricultural land ownership should not be limited to a few large corporations or non-agricultural investors, as we MEPs stressed in a vote last April.

We reiterated the need to make land ownership distribution a criterion for economic and social stability in Europe, demonstrating solidarity with European farmers. Parliament’s report demonstrates the catastrophic processes involved in agricultural land concentration, a trend that has continued unabated for years. 


If policymakers continue to do nothing, 60 to 70 per cent of the land could very soon end up in the hands of the few. We are all aware, from the history books, of times gone by where there were a handful of landowners, and many workers without rights or property.

The report also highlights the urgent need to facilitate access to farmland for farmers. According to surveys, access to land is the greatest obstacle for young people wanting to work in agriculture. 

Therefore, we need to provide easier access for companies developing organic farming and requiring land to do so and, and also for those wishing to start their own farm. The topic has begun to receive attention from both the Commission and member states. 

The agricultural committee report is thus considered to be cutting-edge, with the EU clearly centralising the owner-managed operating structure. These small to medium-sized enterprises also require EU support to equip themselves to provide food security and maintain and conserve the countryside for the next generation.

The report also identifies measures for preventing agricultural subsidies from increasing concentration processes. There is a concentration of agricultural land in the EU comparable to Brazil and the Philippines, and the connection between these concentration processes and the funding for hectares of land needs to be made clear. 

The need to rethink is ever clearer to those in positions of responsibility. It is not the size of the area, but rather the added value for society that must, from hereon in, be our award criterion. 

We call on the Commission and member states to include a more effective aid distribution mechanism in the next CAP reform to counteract the level of agricultural land concentration. This would put an end to the division of concentrated agricultural land into smaller parts when being sold. 

For example, in Germany, when agricultural giant KTG Agrar recently went into insolvency and was divided up, the land it owned was not sold to local farmers, but was instead bought in large part by the Münchner Rück (Munich Reinsurance) Insurance company to ramp up their portfolio. 

Member states - among other things - must monitor, and where appropriate, sanction prices for leases and implement the committee on world food security’s ‘voluntary guidelines for the responsible management of land use, fishing and forest resources’. 

In addition, the EU must continuously monitor the cross-border situation by means of an agricultural land observation post. Support for young farmers and newcomers to the agricultural sector urgently needs to be stepped up.

The concept of soil protection should, in future, include more than just the maintenance of soil vitality, quality and structure. It also needs to cover production areas for agriculture and land conservation, and prevent soil from becoming an object of speculation.

Agricultural land concentration is a worldwide problem that affects both farmers and general public alike. Agricultural land is the basis for food production and is therefore the prerequisite for ensuring food security. 

It is not a standard commodity; the normal market rules in an increasingly globalised economy do not work. It is neither reproducible nor relocatable. This is why we need to fight against unhealthy, unnatural concentration and realise that soil is more than a tradeable commodity.


About the author

Maria Noichl (S&D, DE) is Parliament’s rapporteur on the state of play of farmland concentration in the EU

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