What does the latest agricultural census tell us about Spanish farms?
The publication of the latest agricultural census by Spain’s National Statistics Institute, corresponding to 2020, not only allows us to describe exhaustively how the Spanish agricultural sector has evolved in recent decades in supply terms but also to detect any structural changes and predict new trends, strengths and weaknesses. The typical farm is still characterised by being small, economically modest and run primarily by a relatively older male, with little generational renewal, one of the major handicaps facing the sector. However, successive censuses reveal a gradual process of increased concentration among farms, which are becoming larger and more productive, as well as a greater presence of women in the sector.
Spain’s agricultural sector is characterised by a plethora of small farms: more than half have 5 hectares or less. Average production is around 49,600 euros per year per farm, although 63% produce less than 15,000 euros per year. In terms of ownership, the vast majority are owned by individuals (94% of the total) and the owner is usually the head of the farm (81%), predominantly male (71%) and of an advanced age (41% are aged over 65).
The average size of Spanish farms is small although livestock establishments are larger than agricultural farms
An analysis by productive specialisation (the technical-economic orientation or TEO) makes it possible to differentiate between agricultural and livestock farms. The former clearly dominate in number (more than 80% of the total) but only account for about half of the utilised area and production (30,128 euros per farm on average). Livestock establishments account for only 2 out of 10 farms but have a larger area and economic dimension (135,225 euros per farm on average). By sector, olives, fruit and citrus, and cereals and legumes account for the majority of farms in Spain’s agricultural sector. However, sheep and goats, cattle, and cereals and legumes occupy the most agricultural land (in all, the three occupy more than half the total area). In terms of productivity (euros per hectare), the poultry and pork sectors, in the case of livestock farming, and horticulture, in the case of agriculture, are particularly significant.
Comparisons with other European agricultural sectors (Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands) reveal differences with respect to other systems that are more productive than the Spanish system,24 where there’s a greater proportion of large farms, with a much higher production per farm,25 and where the participation of private enterprise is somewhat greater (the case of France stands out, where only 59% are owned by individuals). The majority of farm managers are also men, as in Spain (68% on average in the EU), but the generational renewal is less of a concern (there’s a higher proportion of people under 45 years of age and a lower proportion of people over 65, except in Italy).
- 24. The EU’s average productivity totals 2,230 euros per hectare according to Eurostat data, compared with 1,887 euros per hectare for Spanish farms. The gap widens greatly when we compare these figures with other European economies (2,351 euros in France, 2,812 euros in Germany, 4,702 euros in Italy and 13,683 euros in the Netherlands).
- 25. The average standard production in the EU is lower than in the Spanish sector (39,677 euros per year on average in 2020 according to Eurostat data), although this reaches levels between 150,000-175,000 in the cases of Germany and France, and exceeds 450,000 in the Netherlands.
% of total farms with utilised agricultural area
It’s also useful to examine the regional differences within Spain since these farms can be defined by a wide range of characteristics. In terms of size, the proportion of small farms is especially evident in the Canary Islands, Community of Valencia and Galicia, while larger establishments tend to be concentrated in Castile & Leon and Aragon. In terms of production volume (TSP), farms with a production of less than 15,000 euros per year predominate (excluding the Canary Islands and Aragon). However, when production per farm is taken into account, regions such as Murcia, Catalonia and Aragon have establishments with a high production rate (more than 80,000 euros per farm), a figure that resembles other European economies. In terms of farm managers, the regions on the Cantabrian coast have a higher proportion of women and greater replacement by younger generations.
% of total farms with utilised agricultural area
Farms in Spain are characterised by a high degree of heterogeneity, largely due to regional specialisation in terms of production
One important factor is the extent to which each autonomous community specialises in a particular type of production. First, it’s important to note that the sectors that stand out at a national level are actually concentrated within a few regions: olive farms are concentrated in Andalusia (with more than 60% of the country’s farms specialising in this sector); fruit and citrus farms in the Community of Valencia (45% of the total), and cereals and legumes in the two Castilian regions (62% of the total). Livestock farms are more prevalent in Catalonia, Galicia, Castile & Leon and Andalusia, among other regions.
In general, most regions are considerably diverse in sector terms but some are notably specialised in a single sector. This is the case of Andalusia (olives), Asturias and Cantabria (cattle), C. of Valencia and Murcia (fruit) and La Rioja (viticulture).
The number of farms in Spain has declined substantially over the last three decades. Specifically, from nearly 1.6 million farms in 1989, the sector currently has 914,871 (–42.6%).26 Despite this reduction in the number of farms, however, between 1990 and 2020 the sector posted strong growth in agrifood production and exports in real terms of more than 80%, reflecting the significant productivity gains achieved during this period.27 On the one hand, the yields of utilised agricultural land have doubled since 1990: 2,400 euros are currently produced for each utilised hectare in the Spanish countryside, compared with an average of 1,165 euros in 1990. The gains are even clearer in terms of agricultural income per annual work unit (AWU), another way of measuring the sector’s productivity: 32,300 in 2020, three times more than in 1990.
If we focus on the last decade and compare the 2009 census with that of 2020, we can see that the greatest decline in the number of farms has occurred among smaller establishments (10.3% fewer farms of less than 5 hectares) and lower turnover (–20% of those with an annual turnover of less than 4,000 euros). On the other hand, the largest (those with 100 hectares or more increased by 9%) and most economically significant (those with an annual turnover in excess of 500,000 euros increased by almost 75%). This alone suggests some efficiency gains in the sector, since large farms tend to be more efficient as they have a greater capacity to innovate, to introduce new technologies and take advantage of the synergies of these investments, among other aspects. The smaller number of farms, despite a slight increase in the utilised agricultural area between 2009 and 2020 (0.7%), means that the average size of each farm has grown over the last decade (up 7.4% to an average of 26.4 hectares per farm in 2020).
On balance, the agricultural sector is becoming more concentrated with fewer but increasingly larger and more productive farms. According to the 2020 census, farms of 100 hectares or more, although they account for only 6% of the total, represent 58% of the utilised agricultural area (this figure was 47% in the 1989 census) and almost 30% of total production (24% in 2009).
Percentage of total farms
In terms of economic sectors (TEO), the drop between 2009 and 2020 was widespread and the only significant increase was in greenhouse horticulture, viticulture and olives. It should be noted that greenhouse horticulture is one of the sectors with the highest production per farm (PPF). This therefore explains, to a large extent, the productivity gains made by Spain’s agricultural sector in recent years.
By autonomous community, the reduction in the number of farms is fairly widespread throughout the country with the exception of Andalusia and La Rioja. Asturias, the Basque Country and Catalonia, among others, have seen both a sharp drop in their number of smaller farms and an increase in larger ones, which is why they stand out as regions where the concentration of the sector has accelerated over the past decade. It should be noted that there’s also a certain positive relationship between those communities that have increased their number of farms larger than 100 hectares and those that have increased their productivity the most (see the chart below).
The trend in farm managers leaves a lot to be desired. On the positive side, there’s an increasing proportion of women (29% in 2020 compared with 22% in 2009), with a particularly notable improvement in regions such as Castile-La Mancha, Valencia and Andalusia. However, there’s still room for improvement in the training of farm managers: only 4.1% have vocational training in agriculture, an improvement from 1.5% in 2009. Finally, the great unresolved issue in the sector continues to be generational renewal, as there are fewer and fewer managers under 45 years of age (14% of all farms in 2020 compared with 21% in 2009) and more managers aged over 65 (41% in 2020 compared with 30% in the previous decade). This situation is particularly marked in the cases of Andalusia, Castile & Leon and Extremadura, while an improvement can be observed in the regions on the Cantabrian coast.
On balance, it seems evident that Spain’s agricultural sector is evolving towards greater productivity, concentrating activity in fewer farms that are proportionally larger and with a greater economic dimension. This continuous improvement and modernisation of the agricultural system is evident in the productivity gains made by Spain’s agricultural sector in recent years, although it’s true that the country’s average farm size is still modest compared with other European economies with an agricultural system of a similar size.
According to the data provided by the agricultural census, the poultry, fruit and vegetable, and pork sectors are the most productive (concentrated in the regions of Catalonia, Extremadura and Castile & Leon). Greater productivity gains should be aimed at boosting sectors with a larger presence in the Spanish sector, such as olives, fruits, and cereals and legumes, which account for 60% of Spanish farms.
The situation of farm managers is also key. Further steps are needed to boost the role of women in the sector in Spain and, above all, to promote training and professionalisation, as well as to stimulate generational renewal (Spain is at the bottom of the European ranking in this respect). More than 40% of today’s managers will retire over the next 10 years, which means that around 200,000 young people will need to enter the industry to make up for their loss.
In this regard, the new CAP has a Strategic Plan whose aim is to make agriculture more innovative and digital, more committed to generational renewal and with more aid to promote the incorporation of younger members of the population. Specifically, over 220 million euros will be allocated to specific aid for young people, the largest amount invested in this objective in the 60-year history of the CAP and 50% more than in the previous period. An additional 15% will also be allocated in the case of farm owners being young farmers or livestock breeders.
According to the data provided by the agricultural census, the poultry, fruit and vegetable, and pork sectors are the most productive and are concentrated in Catalonia, Extremadura and Castile & Leon