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New French Farm Leader Brings Change In Style

Plans to develop contracts to cushion price swings between French cereal and livestock sectors show how farmers can play a more active role in the food industry and not rely solely on public subsidies, the head of France’s main farm union said.

France’s cereal and livestock sectors have agreed on the outline of such supply contracts, FNSEA president Xavier Beulin said Feb. 16, calling this evidence farmers are taking their share of responsibility for tackling market tensions.

Soaring grain prices are shaking global agriculture, putting livestock farmers in Europe under financial strain and sparking a wave of buying by import-reliant countries.

“I like the idea of shared responsibility because we can’t expect to get everything from Brussels or Paris, from supermarkets or manufacturers. We also have a contribution to bring to make our farming system more efficient,” Beulin told Reuters.

“But when we take a step like we’ve done with this livestock-grain co-operation, it is important this is recognized by the industry and the authorities, who also need to bring their contribution.”

Following a call from France’s farm minister, grain and livestock representatives agreed on the principle of contracts between grain co-operatives and animal-feed makers, and feed makers and livestock farmers, with details to be negotiated by July, Beulin and other officials told a news conference.

But farm unions also want food manufacturers and retailers to pay farmers more in order to reflect rising commodity costs, especially in the meat sector.

Beulin at a Wednesday news conference floated the idea of including a commodity cost component in prices paid by shoppers, saying this would be like fuel surcharges which airlines add to plane ticket prices to reflect kerosene costs.

Beulin, 52, became in December the first grain grower to be elected president of the FNSEA, a powerful lobby in what is the European Union’s top farm producer.

His appointment has been expected to bring a change of style to the FNSEA, well known for bringing farmers out on to the streets. Beulin is president of diversified oilseed group Sofiproteol, which observers say makes him more market focused.

“My view is that we need to go and find the added-value where it is made, mostly downstream, in order to bring it back upstream. This is what we’ve done with Sofiproteol,” he said.

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