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French Farming Reworks Image To Lure Recruits

French agriculture is trying to boost its public image to entice more recruits to a sector hit by demographic and technological change, farm representatives said on Feb. 25.

While the number of young farmers setting up in Europe’s largest food producer has risen five per cent over three years, according to Farm Ministry figures, this growth is being outpaced by a wave of retirement in an ageing farm population.

In 2007, 52 per cent of 436,000 professional farmers in France were between 40 and 55 years old, with another 18 per cent over 55, according to Farm Ministry data.

“For every two farmers who stop, there is only one who sets up,” said Mickael Poillion, an official at France’s young farmers union in charge of employment issues.

Farm Ministry data showed that 6,282 new farmers under 40 years of age set themselves up with state aid last year, up five per cent on 2005.

Poillion’s group wants to raise that number to 7,000 a year, supported by a recruitment campaign being showcased at the recent Paris farm show, often dubbed “France’s largest farm.”

“We’ve still got a bad image,” Poillion said at the show. “We’re trying to show people that we’re young and earning a living.”

RAPPER COWS

While attachment to the role of farming remains strong in France, as illustrated by the crowds at the farm show, it is not seen as an attractive career.

According to a survey published by pollster BVA and specialist magazine France Agricole, more than two-thirds of French people have never considered a farm-related career.

“It’s no longer about pushing a wheelbarrow of manure,” said Eric Swartvagher, president of ANEFA, an association of farm employers and workers that promotes employment in the sector.

This dated image means agriculture struggles to recruit the skilled personnel it needs for modern tasks such as computer analysis, genetic breeding and financial management, he said.

To improve working conditions, employer and union representatives agreed last year to introduce complementary health and life insurance for farm workers from 2010.

France’s largest farm union FNSEA has also been running a media campaign in recent months, including television and billboard advertising, under the slogan “Agriculture, an in-fashion career.”

Its leader, Jean-Michel Lemetayer, said at the launch of the campaign he hoped the images – including a pig carrying shopping bags, a cow dressed in rapper’s clothes and sunglasses with side pieces made of wheat – would show a modern image of agriculture and make it more attractive.

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