The ‘great retirement’ that will forever change the model of the Spanish countryside
The Spanish countryside becomes ‘old’. 60% of Spanish farmers and ranchers, nearly 500,000, are over 60 years old and will reach retirement age before the year 2030. What’s more, the owners of more than 64 years are already 355,000. This ‘great retirement’ that will take place in the Spanish primary sector in this decade will bring a radical change in the productive and property structure of the countryside. The lack of generational change in the rural world opens the doors to large funds, which in the last decade they have already multiplied their investment by 15 in the Spanish agri-food sector, covering, in many cases, the entire food chain, from production to marketing through transformation.
The ‘demographic winter’ has settled in the Spanish countryside and a study carried out by the Valencian Association of Farmers (AVA-ASAJA) reveals that the average age of the owners of agricultural holdings at the national level is 61.4 years. The field is aging and it does not seem that there are young people willing to take over. In fact, the ‘agromillennials’as the Coordinator of Farmers and Ranchers Organizations (COAG) calls them in the study presented this week, are barely 3% of active producers, about 25,000. And according to this same organization, at least 200,000 new young farmers would be needed to cover the ‘great retirement’ that is going to take place in the present decade and that there is, thus, a sustainable generational change. Otherwise, something that seems inevitable, what COAG has come to call the ‘uberization’ of the first sector in Spain, will occur. “An agriculture and livestock without farmers or ranchers and in the hands of big funds and the agri-food industry”.
For the Minister of Agriculture, Luis Planas, “the generational change” is “one of the great challenges of the Spanish countryside” and “the incorporation of young farmers into agricultural activity is a key piece to achieve a model for the future in this sector” , although he himself gave discouraging figures during his speech this week at the VIII Young Farmer Congress of ASAJA and indicated that the forecast for the 2023-2027 period is that Some 16,000 young people can join the agricultural activity, “largely thanks to the support of the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)”, but figure, in any case, totally insufficient to guarantee this generational change.
The ‘agromillennials’ are less than expected
The head of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food spoke of the fact that more than 220 million euros per year will be allocated in specific aid for young people, “the largest amount allocated to this objective in the 60-year history of the CAP and 50% more compared to the previous period”, figures “totally insufficient” for agricultural organizations. Vicente owns 150 hectares of cereal in the province of Valladolid. He is 66 years old and “I’m already thinking about quitting.” His children “live in the capital and are not interested in the countryside, so I will sell my land to whoever wants to buy them from me will probably be a great investor”. And Vicente states: “We are the generation that raised agriculture, and we will be the generation that is going to see it disappear as we know it. Agriculture will continue, but it will be very different from the current one.”
With the agrarian population pyramid as it is and with the “critical” economic situation that we are experiencing is being produced for Miguel López, general secretary of COAG Andalucía, a disturbing phenomenon, since “on the one hand many workers are falling who cannot endure these conditions or are retiring for reasons of age and, on the other hand, investment groups are appearing buying extensions of land”. Something that in his opinion can make us return to “what happened a century ago: everything for the big landowners and the rest to resist with rents or working the fields as day laborers.” “My concern”, López stresses, “is that the majority social and professional model in Europe, which is the one that has the capacity to sustain food within a framework of food security and sovereignty, which is essential for the future as a whole of the population , we are handing it over to the financial markets and investment funds, which are coming to us and taking us by storm. And they are capitals that come from abroad and are going to take the added value of Spain and Andalusia”.
In any case, if ‘traditional’ farmers retire or abandon their farms, someone will have to produce food because “it is estimated that food production will have to grow between 60% and 70% to be able to feed the world’s population of here to 2050, which will be 9,000 million people”, according to the report ‘Agribusiness in the Iberian Peninsula’ by the consulting firm CBRE Spain. And it is that a growing number of investors is launching to buy companies in the primary sector and agricultural land because they are profitable and have become an investment product.
“In other areas, such as the United States or Australia, they are mature assets, but agriculture in Spain and Portugal has not always been visible to investors. However, that has changed, it has matured, and now it is much more technological and that has facilitated the entry of institutional investors who see it as an alternative in the medium and long term”, they explain at CBRE Spain.
In recent years, in Spain there have been large purchases of land and operations of agricultural companies led by private capital funds that seek, above all, irrigated farms -in our country there are 3.7 million hectares of irrigated crops, 7% of the total surface of the country-, which may have an average price of between 40,000-50,000 euros per hectare. One of the most active has been Proa Capital, which between 2016 and 2019 bought leading companies such as Moyca, Gallo Pasta and Fruselva. In 2020, the CVC fund bought Panzani from Ebro Foods and, in 2019, Abac Capital acquired the producer and marketer Agrowest. Several alliances have also been closed between funds and companies such as Miura and Martín Navarro, which created one of the largest citrus companies in Europe, Citri&Co. And subsequently Citric he has sold ownership of his farmland to the Canadian PSP fund for around 150 million. Atitlan, for its part, formed the Elaia joint venture together with Sovena to acquire Romu Fruits and later sold Elaia’s portfolio, made up of around 7,000 hectares, which has been purchased by the same Canadian fund, PSP, in an operation which has exceeded 250 million euros.
The truth is that in the last year, and according to industry sources, nearly 200 funds have bought farmland in Spain and have produced about 1,000 operations in the Spanish agri-food market. A market in which the presence of the Nuveen and Westchester funds, of the US TIAA pension fund, is no longer surprising; the aforementioned Canadian PSP pension fund, the HSBC bank through Climate Asset Management, the Spanish ‘Family office’ Persán or the vehicle in the form of a European Venture Capital Fund, Aurea Sustainable Agriculture Fund I (ASAF), created by the Spanish company Aurea Capital IM, and which already has 120 million euros under management in just a few months. ASAF’s investment strategy focuses on “acquisition of a portfolio of farms diversified by crops and geographical areas in Europe. Initially in Spain, Portugal and Italy to introduce technology and high-yield crops that turn them into profitable companies, improving their productivity and guaranteeing sustainability and efficiency”. It is the change of model of the Spanish countryside.
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