Since the 50’s, French agriculture has had to face new challenges.
Before World War II, farms were small and agriculture represented 35% of the French active population and the priority was self-sufficiency. Today, thanks to the common agricultural policy and the creation of a new economic market, agriculture has undergone major changes.
I. Structure of French farms
In 2010 in metropolitan France, 970,000 people held regular employment on farms, which represents 3.3% of the French jobs. The average of the French agricultural income before taxes in 2012 increased by 9% compared to 2011. The average agricultural income has increased for three years in a row to reach its maximum amount ever this year: 49,215 $. However this average amount hides many disparities between the agricultural sectors (crop farms compared to ovine farms for instance).
In 2010, there were 490,000 farms in metropolitan France and 24,800 in oversea regions. This represents a utilized agricultural area (UAA) of nearly 30 million hectares, more than half of the French territory. This area is divided into 3 major crops: 63% of cropland (cereal and forage crops mainly), 34% of grassland and 3% of perennial crops, vineyards and orchards. In spite of a sharp decrease, 30% of French farms are cattle farms.
France has the biggest utilized agricultural acreage (UAA) of Europe and is the biggest producer of agricultural goods (in value, around 116.3 billion euros). In 2012, France is also first in cow meat production, second in cow milk production and third in pig meat production.
The land consolidation and the reorganization of the agriculture led to a fall in the number of farms and to their enlargement. The actual average size of farms (around 135 acres) is much larger than 60 years ago.
II. Presentation of the major French Agricultural Productions and their Distribution among the French Counties
2.1 Vegetal Production is led by Crops
More than a third of the UAA is devoted to cereals: mainly wheat, barley and corn. Production of cereals is highly condensed in France: 23% of the cultivators produce 64% of the volume of cereals.
Wheat, which represents 54% of the French cereals and covered 12 million acres, is mostly located in the west of France and around the Parisian basin. Between 2007 and 2011 the average yield of tender wheat reaches 105.67 bushels/acre.
3.7 millions acres of barley are planted mostly in the North-east quarter of France. Barley represents 17% of the French production of cereals and had a regular yield over 2007 and 2011 of 56.57bushels/acres.
The majority of the production of corn is used to feed animals. Two major areas produce corn: the south-east of France and Alsace. Like barley, corn represents 17% of the French production of cereals and the average yield between 2007 and 2011 was equal to 146.49bushels/acres.
The amount of French territory covered by orchards decreased by 10% between 2000 and 2011. During the same time, the size of each orchard farm increased by 17% and reached 19 acres. 60% of the fruits are grown in the Rhône-Alpes area. Apple is the first fruit followed by nuts. In 2011 France produced 3.3 million tons of fruits.
In 2011, France produced 5. 6 million tons of vegetables (without potatoes and chicory). Tomatoes and carrots are the two main vegetables grown in France.
Vineyards cover 1.9 million acres and belong to 85,000 producers.
The 2012 harvest is estimated at around 50.5 million hectoliters; 45% is red wine, 43% is white Wine and 12% is rosé. More than 90% of the production benefits from a designation, either PDO (Protected Geographical Indication, the European quality symbol) or AOP (the French equivalent of PDO).
2.2 The animal production
France has the largest livestock production in Europe with 19.1 million heads in 2011, it is the second largest producer of milk in Europe (24.6 million Tons in 2011).
39% of the French production of dairy cows is located in the West part of France. The suckled cows, however, are located in the center area of France, which is mostly covered by pastures.
France is world-famous for animal breeds. Since the 60’s, French breeds have gained more and more importance. Selected breeding animals are exported in many countries. In the dairy sector, France is the birthplace of several specific breeds such as Normande, Montbéliarde, Brune, Abondance, Tarentaise, Pie rouge des plaines, and many more! The Charolaise, Salers or Limousine are very famous beef meat breeds. Most of the time, the breeds from the mountains spend the summer in the pasture while the livestock raised in the west of France spend a part of the year in grasslands.
French has an old cheese tradition (link to products of ‘terroir’) and tries to keep a large number of dairy breeds, each one linked to a specific French cheese.
In 2012 the goat herd reached more than 1.3 million heads; more than 30% are from the Poitou Charente area. However, the number of goats is decreasing (-5% this year) due to the soar of producing costs and the reduction of dairy price. In 2012, 128 million gallons of goat milk were produced. The amount of goat meat also declined this year: -2% compared to 2011 and only count 877,000 heads.
1.5 million sheep are bred for milk in France, mostly in the South east regions of France: Midi Pyrénées, Aquitaine, Languedoc Roussillon, and Corsica. Since 1988, the number of sheep increased by 9%.
At the same time, the amount of sheep meat is decreasing: in 25 years the numbers of them decreased by 40% and represent 4.4 million heads today.
Like in the rest of Europe the numbers of pigs decreased in 2012 and counted in at 13.8 million heads. France is the third largest producer of pork meat in Europe, and about half of the French pigs come from Brittany.
Besides the classic breeds well-represented throughout Europe, six local breeds, like the Basque and the Gascon from southwest of France, continue to exist as former regional French breeds. As they are endangered, genetic programs are committed to saving them.
In 2012, France produced 1.8 million tons of poultry meat; being the first producer of poultry among European countries. 1 million tons of poultry meat is chicken, 0.3 million tons are turkey and 0.2 million tons are duck. In 2012, 12.5 billion of eggs and 52.9 million tons of rabbit were produced.
III. The importance of food sector in the French Economy
In 2011, 2.3% of the French active population was employed in food industry, which represents 575,488 people. 28% of them were employed in the artisan businesses like bakeries and butcheries, 20% in meat transformation industries, and 10% in milk transformation.
The food industry contributes to 1.6% to the French gross domestic product. The global turnover created by the industry is 205.5 billion of dollars, 19% of it comes from meat industries, 16% from milk transformation and 15% from alcoholic beverages.