While previous reports on the use and interest in flexible loans and in guarantee and counter-guarantee instruments investigated the supply side of the EU financial market for agriculture, this analysis is the first to focus on the demand side. It completes the series of fi-compass studies on the financial needs of EU agriculture, which started in 2017 with a preliminary estimation of the financial gap at EU and Member State levels. This report is also the first to fill the information gap about farmers’ financial needs, as there are currently no detailed European databases on access to finance for farmers. The Survey on the Access to Finance of Enterprises (SAFE) is a primary statistical tool launched in 2008 by the European Commission (EC) and the European Central Bank (ECB) which covers EU enterprises in almost all sectors, apart from agriculture. However, when feasible, SAFE statistics are used as benchmarks to help understand the results of the agricultural enterprise survey presented in this report in relation to other business areas.
Agriculture in the EU is fundamental for the European economy
There are more than 10.2 million enterprises in the sector, which accounts for 4.4% of total EU employment. In some Member States such as Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, and Poland, more than 10% of employment is in agriculture. Most European farmers operate in a favourable climatic environment to produce a wide range of high-value foods and high-quality products. EU agricultural production and farming are highly diversified, and many farmers operate in innovative food chains with diverse structures, technologies, and products. All this assists their response to changing market and consumer demand. The success of EU agriculture is also shown by its record export performance, which in 2016 reached EUR 131 billion. This led to a positive agri-food trade balance (EUR 19 billion in 2016), reversing a deficit at the beginning of the current decade.
European farms are also experiencing important structural change
The number of farms in the EU fell by more than a quarter in less than a decade, while their standard output increased by almost 56%. Moreover, the average size of farms in the EU-28 increased considerably, from 11.9 hectares in 2005 to 16.1 hectares in 2013, and farm productivity has significantly increased.