The European Council of Young Farmers (CEJA) has launched a campaign called #LandStories that aims to raise awareness of the impact of “land take” on young farmers. Land take is the process of converting agricultural land into areas designated for construction and urban infrastructure. The campaign seeks to preserve agricultural land in the European Union (EU), as the EU’s goals towards sustainable soil management are undermined by rendering the land unsuitable for farming through land take.
CEJA Vice-President Anne-Catherine Dalcq expressed her concerns about the alarming levels of conversion of agricultural land into non-agricultural areas ahead of the campaign launch. She said, “As many young farmers in Europe, I find myself personally impacted by the unpredictability of land use decisions which disrupts our long-term investment plans and undermines efforts to improve soil quality. Our campaign is also a call on EU policymakers to recognise the value of agricultural land and the critical role it plays, not only for sustainable food production, climate change and biodiversity, but also for the challenge of generational renewal in agriculture.”
The #LandStories campaign features young farmers affected by land take. Pieter, a dairy farmer in Belgium, spoke about the impact that the construction of a ring road has had on his area. He said, “Me and other farmers will be compelled to give up highly productive agricultural land to offset the loss of forests and nature caused by the construction project.” In Luxembourg, Marc, who is also a young farmer, said that land around him was being used for construction and that he had lost 10ha to the developments. “I planned to create a flowering meadow on the isolated 4ha of my farm to meet sustainability requirements, but the state agency in charge of the land opposed the idea, fearing that the increase in biodiversity and animal habitats would hinder future urban development,” he said.
CEJA regards the issue of land take as key to its campaign, as it aims to show the impact it is having on young farmers. The process of covering soil with impermeable material such as concrete or asphalt, which is one of the main causes of soil degradation in the EU, is akin to soil sealing. This process will create problems for the security of an adequate stock of arable land for food production, according to CEJA. Between 2000 and 2018, a total of 1.4 million hectares of land were converted in the EU, which is 11 times greater than the amount of land re-cultivated during the same period.
CEJA believes that the forthcoming EU Soil Health Law is “a pivotal opportunity to address the pressing issue of land take”, where stricter regulations can be implemented on “land conversion and urban sprawl”. The law has the objective to “specify the conditions for a healthy soil, determine options for monitoring soil, and lay out rules conducive to sustainable soil use and restoration”.
The #LandStories campaign is a call to action for EU policymakers to recognise the value of agricultural land and the critical role it plays in sustainable food production, climate change, and biodiversity. Young farmers are already facing limited availability of land, inflated prices due to competition, and uncertain leases. The unpredictability of land use decisions that disrupt long-term investment plans and undermine efforts to improve soil quality adds to these challenges. The EU must take action to preserve agricultural land for future generations and ensure sustainable soil management.