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The quality of EU land tenure statistics

EU accession ought to improve the quality of land tenure data in the Central and Eastern European countries because of the requirement to collect tenure data for the FADN and the agricultural census. The IACS system provides data on the sizes and locations of agricultural land parcels as well as the identity of their occupiers. There are, however, a number of weaknesses in the EU’s approach, which may mean that it fails fully to reflect changing circumstances in agriculture and rural society.

The emphasis on the holding was justifiable in the days when the farm was the business and land was generally farmed by a family. Now, for many farmers, the business is much more complex, comprising several holdings and made up of land held under different tenures. Increasingly, the farmer is a company. Data collection ought to focus on the business rather than the holding. Farmers have come increasingly to rely on off-farm income generated by family members or diversification into non-farming businesses that make use of farm land and buildings. An understanding of farming needs to be based upon its role in the portfolio of businesses that farmers undertake. In some countries, entrepreneurs have developed businesses in the countryside, attracted by the quality of life. The tax system may also provide incentives to invest in farming. Land tenure statistics need to capture these phenomena.

EU statistics use a crude distinction between owned, tenanted and sharecropped land. These categories do not capture the subtleties of different forms of tenure or the impact of different types of tenancy agreement. Moreover, the EU does not require Member States to collect data on land prices, numbers of transactions or rents, even though these have been among the benchmarks used to evaluate whether applicants meet the criterion of a fully functioning market economy. The EU has collected and published some data on rents and land prices in the pre-2004 Member States (Eurostat, 2000), but these are neither comprehensive in coverage, nor do the data appear to have been collected in a standardized way. A strong case can be made for systematically collecting rental and land price data in the interests of understanding what is happening in the land market and for governments to publish these data to promote market efficiency. Divergence in the prices of land of comparable productivity among different countries is likely to be an important feature of the enlarged EU and could bring about significant migrations in farming businesses.

The EU data systems were created to monitor production. They have tended to be orientated towards the past needs of the CAP, with its emphasis on aid for production. This was changed under Agenda 2000 towards an area payments approach. Many farms produce products that are highly valued by society, even though farmers may not be paid for them. A farm is home to many animal, bird and plant species other than those being farmed. As recognition increases of the vital role that farming plays in protecting the countryside and in managing landscapes and habitats, one needs to know whether particular farming practices are associated with particular tenures. For example, are certain tenures associated with short-term attitudes to land management and biodiversity? Do certain tenures encourage farmers to take up conservation management contracts? EU data systems are not geared towards answering such questions.

EU land tenure data is strangely blind to the social circumstances of farmers. With most EU funding, it is normal to undertake social monitoring to ensure that there are equal opportunities for all social groups and the absence of discrimination. Neither FADN nor the agricultural censuses seek to collect social data. It is therefore impossible to use these data to examine such issues as ethnicity, or minority languages or the access of particular groups to CAP funds. One cannot use these data to examine social exclusion or rural poverty. For example, are those farmers with the least secure tenures from particular ethnic or language minorities? Do women tend to be rejected for tenancies, and are they obliged to acquire land by purchase or inheritance? Such questions cannot be answered from EU land tenure data and this suggests that the data collection could usefully be modified to make it more appropriate for the needs of Member States, particularly those from Central and Eastern Europe.

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