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French Farmers Unhappy with 'Lack of Respect'

08 February 2012

FRANCE - The annual meeting of the French arable sector this January in Dijon found farmers feeling undervalued and discontented, writes NFU policy director Martin Haworth.

Speaker after speaker bemoaned the fact that although French agriculture is a success story - particularly cereals - and enormously important to the French economy, jobs and exports, its government and society only seems to want to find ways of putting more restrictions on it, writes Martin Haworth.

“Only the French would throw away a trump card,” exclaimed one speaker, to huge applause.

Produisez mieux, produisez plus (produce more, produce better) is the French take on the NFU’s produce more, impact less mantra. But their public doesn’t seem to want French farmers to have the necessary tools to achieve that goal. Fertilisers, pesticides, irrigation and new technology are called into question and arbitrary restrictions are being placed on all these. Some of this by cross compliance, some by national legislation and some by gold plating of EU rules. In what looks like a direct rebuttal of the farmers’ slogan, the Environment Minister - the hated Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, had recently said “less is better”.

The French court has overthrown a national ban on an EU-approved GM maize; but the ministers of agriculture and the environment have vowed to continue the prohibition on cultivation. The ‘precautionary principle’ has been formally written into the French constitution. This was universally derided – not least by a prominent French scientist who labelled the decision as absurd, unscientific and catastrophic in its potential consequences.

And, the whole arable sector is incensed by new restrictions, which are coming on fertiliser applications.

Jim Paice’s opposite number, Bruno le Maire had to follow hard-hitting speeches from the presidents of both the French NFU (the FNSEA) and the arable sector. They attacked the ‘punitive ecology’ of the government, calling for political leadership and courage on issues such as GM – the kind that presidents De Gaulle and Pompidou gave in the past.

The FNSEA president admitted that the CAP wasn’t his main concern, competitiveness was.

“France is slipping badly; it is losing market share; labour costs are too high; R&D and investment are drying up,” he said.

Le Maire managed to skate around his areas of vulnerability and concentrate on areas of agreement. He had sorted out the issue of farm saved seed and royalties - in the face of concerted opposition - and, in alliance with the Germans, he had defended the CAP budget against Commission proposals for cuts.

Bruno Le Maire is very likely to be the director of President Sarkozy’s campaign for re-election in June and he gave many hints he was unlikely to be in his current post for much longer. Provided there is no election disaster one can predict a bright political future. French arable farmers are much less confident in their own future.

TheCropSite News Desk

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