Agriculture in France
France is the European Union's leading agricultural exporter. Until the end of the Second World War, agriculture was one of the main occupations in France, which is why France was known as having a farming economy. Even at the end of the 1990s a third of the economically active population was based on France’s agriculture.
The importance of agriculture is also seen in the definition found in French dictionaries where agriculture is defined as the art of cultivating and working the land.
The French Agriculture benefits from a very important productive surface –around ½ ha per habitant- on top of that, France benefits from a very favourable geographical situation and relatively good weather. This explains why France is the premier Agricultural country in the European Union.
I have been told that it was only after 1945 that the agriculture changed in France by passing from a family production pattern to a mass production pattern. These days French agriculture produces not only food but also produces raw material to be transformed into industrial products for human and animal consumption, as well as chemicals, pharmaceutical, cosmetic and even biofuels. The main produces in France are cereal (wheat and corn are the main ones), sugar, wine, milk products, fruits, vegetables and meat.
The farming population in France
The farming population has decreased enormously in France. In 1946 around 30% of the population rwere farmers while 20 years later the numbers had dropped to only 20% and by 1995, it had decreased to 2.5% of the total active population.
This lowering in the number of farmers is linked to the progress in farming methods which it is in turn linked to an increase in production in the area. Progress in agricultural methods meant better machinery, better quality seeds and industrialisation.
Some facts :
- The number of farmers is only a quarter of what it was forty years ago. Today they only number 600 000 (one out of three Frenchmen in 1945).
- Arable lands represent about 35.6% of the country’s surface.
- France accounts for a staggering 10% of the global market and 25% of the European market for agricultural machinery.
- Agricultural revenues are split between growing crops and cattle breeding.
- France is the world’s 7th largest cereal producer.
- France is the largest single recipient of financial assistance from the EU, receiving around €8 billion a year in direct aid, of the circa €50 million the EU spends on agricultural support.
- Annual net production of beef and veal in the European Union has in recent years been close to 8 million tonnes, the largest producers being France and Germany
- Two thirds of the EU’s cattle is concentrated in only three Member States - France followed by the United Kingdom and Spain
- In France there are now more beef bred cows than dairy cows
According to the 2010 agricultural census, there were 515,000 farms in France, compared to 665,000 in the year 2000.
Life in a French farmClick thumbnail to view full-size
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Times are changing
A few weeks ago there were several festivities around my area in Central France and I had the opportunity to review the old farming ways used by the French Farmers. Times have changed enormously and these days the work that was once made by several men and animals is now done in a fraction of the time by only one person and his machinery. But the ancient farming ways are still honoured at least once a year in the small villages of central France as a way to remind us how far we have come in only a few decades and to keep traditions alive.
Fete de la Batteuse in Chamorin
The “Fete de la batteuse” is literally a day-festival for threshing wheat that takes place in Chamorin, a little hamlet near the village of Baraize in the Indre department. During the day festival visitors can revive old times looking at the exhibition of old tractors as well as several ancient machines restored and in working order. But what I found most interesting was the re-enactment of old trades and crafts bringing us back to the start of the 1900s in this rural area.
The festivity starts in the morning with an outdoor religious service followed by the hand reaping and swathing of the wheat. There are musical shows all day long until the end of the day which finishes with a farming style dinner and dance. The threshing machines are the stars of the festivity along with the work of the dogs rounding up sheep and geese. We also had the opportunity to see how cheese and butter are made in the stables, the best part was tasting the cheese with freshly made bread and a bowl of Mijot which is a mixture of wine, water and sugar with old bread cut and dipped in it. This mixture was the staple snack of the farmhands at the start of the century during harvesting times.
Fete de la Batteuse in ChamorinClick thumbnail to view full-size
fête de la batteuse
fête de la batteuse, Saint Agreve (2009)
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