Agricultural services: a wide spectrum of activities
About 150,000 agricultural, rural and/or forestry contractors, involving about 600.000 persons, are operating within the territory of the European Union, executing in average 50% of work in the sector.
In the absence of official statistics, as there are no indicators in the European Farm Structure Survey, this survey of agricultural, rural and forestry contractors is based on estimates. Based on membership figures for CEETTAR member organisations, it would be reasonable to estimate that 150,000 agricultural, rural and/or forestry contractors exist within the territory of the European Union.
Due to the fact that the sector is dominated by small and medium-sized enterprises, we can also estimate that 600,000 people are directly employed in the sector (including managing directors and self-employed workers) at Community level.
In addition, the services that they provide for the agricultural/forestry sectors and local authorities cover a wide variety of professions and operations. They include all types of agricultural work, such as soil cultivation, fertilisation, harvesting, transport, livestock and agricultural management services. This is in addition to a wide range of maintenance and management services for rural areas, focusing on networks (communication, infrastructure), the environment and public spaces. Forestry contractors provide a wide range of forestry/reforestation, maintenance and farm management services for forest owners, farmers, suppliers and timber companies.
More than 50% of agricultural works in the EU is executed by contractors
However, it is safe to say that 50% of regular work in the sector is completed by contractors and, for some harvesting activities, this can figure can rise to over 80% or 90%! Here are a few examples:
- In France, over 65% of farms specialising in arable crops and over 75% of livestock farms make use of contractors, which harvest sugar beet across an area covering over 250,000 ha;
- In Germany, agricultural contractors harvest and make silage from approx. 90% of maize. For grain maize alone, this is equivalent to 1.35 millions hectares and 54 million tonnes;
- In Ireland, over 80% of 25 million tonnes of grass silage is harvested by agricultural contractors every year;
- In Italy, contractors provide soil preparation services on over one million hectares, as well as services for harvest arable crops and vegetables on close to 2.5 million hectares.
Within this highly competitive context, agricultural, rural and forestry contractors are continuously embracing the challenge of adopting new technology. According to an internal study, the sector invests almost 6 billion Euros per year. It comes as no surprise that it is often the contractors who enable new technologies to be rapidly introduced in the fields: precision agriculture, farming 4.0 and sustainable intensive farming are concepts already put into practice. Similarly, these contractors, due to this innovative dimension, are characterised by their use of a qualified workforce and skilled professionals.
It goes without saying that the combination of these two factors makes it necessary for contractors to guarantee the quality of their services. For this reason, certification, though not compulsory in some cases (such as the use of phytosanitary products), is common practice in most of the sector.
Contractors: an asset for the agriculture
Agricultural, rural and forestry contractors have all that it takes to provide and complete tailor-made services as rapidly as possible for farmers. Fine-tuned techniques, qualified staff and professional planning of even the most complex work processes make it possible to achieve results efficiently, while keeping costs under control.
As a sector, agriculture is particularly subject to increasingly high demands in terms of farm management and marketing. Agricultural, rural and forestry contractors provide cutting-edge techniques at attractive prices. Farmers do not have to invest in their own machinery and can avoid certain financial risks (which is even more important for young farmers). They can therefore devote more financial resources to expanding their businesses and spend their precious time managing the latter. This makes farms more competitive. In addition, the involvement of contractors in the production process improves the quality of works in many cases.This is all the more true as, by introducing the latest innovations, contractors can also provide unique expertise.
In summary, to meet the requirements of modern agricultural production, agricultural contractors annually buy invest the equivalent of a quarter of European production of agricultural machinery. By creating a fleet of modern and high-tech machinery, with the help of skilled employees, they provide three key advantages to European agriculture:
- Improvement of the productivity of agriculture,
- reduction the indebtedness of farmers and
- better compliance to increasingly important environmental constraints.
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