From our property here in south-west France we can see a very wide range of types of agriculture: sunflowers and wheat, nut trees and a vineyard, plum orchards, a field of cows and open meadows among them.
This small scale agriculture is a part of what gives France its beauty and part of the reason why so many people, both from abroad and within France, love to visit the French countryside. Farming in France is also held in very high regard by the population as a whole, because even many city-dwellers come originally from the countryside and consider their family roots to be in farming.
However, as everyone knows farming is in crisis across Europe and perhaps nowhere more so than in France (although the problems are not restricted to France – it’s a Europe problem as much as a French problem).
Anyway, there were some extraordinary figures about French farming published in this week’s Time magazine that I thought I would repeat here to highlight the plight:
- French farmers receive 20% of Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) funding. This amounts to 42 billion euros a year (or a cost of about 2000 euros for every single working person in France)
- EU aid represents more than 90% of the average French farm income
It has been before said that the vast majority of this aid goes to the large-scale farmers around Paris and the centre of France and very little to the small farmers who are struggling to make ends meet, but I don’t know how true that is.
It is also important to note that the farmers we know around here are far from sittting back enjoying the good life because of the grants they receive – indeed, many farms are expected to be forced to close (as over 1 million already have in France over the last 40 years). Due to cheap imports from outside Europe the average farm income in France fell more than 50% over the last two years – a situation that is hardly expected to improve dramatically any time soon.
One ‘lifeline’ that is being encouraged by the French government comes from encouraging farmers to focus more on ‘premium products’ – top quality cheeses, high quality meat products, asparagus direct from the farm, home-pressed and seasoned olive oils etc, using biologically sound methods, rather than trying unsuccessfully to compete with the wheat fields of the Ukraine. In effect, trying to restore France’s reputation as the supplier of some of the best foods in the world.
Could this approach work for French farming as a whole I wonder, or just for a small handful of farmers? Or is there a better solution that will stop France needing to dig out all its hedgerows and turning the whole country into one giant field of maize?