France plans to shift some agricultural subsidies from crop growers to livestock farmers to narrow a gap in revenue and productivity between the two sectors in the European Union's biggest farming economy.
Preventing a decline in small livestock farms has become a priority for Agriculture Minister Stéphane Le Foll in an coming reform of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
Higher agricultural prices pushed average farm revenue in France up for a third straight year in 2012, preliminary figures released on Wednesday showed. But this general trend contained wide disparities.
French crop growers earned an average of €74,400 before tax this year, up more than 40% on 2011, while beef and dairy farmers saw their income plunge around 10% to €15,400 and €26,500 respectively.
"These results reinforce my view that the allocation of CAP credits must be reweighted in favour of livestock sectors," Le Foll said in a statement.
As part of the CAP negotiations, the Socialist minister is notably seeking the right to give a subsidy premium for the first few hectares of each farm, to favour generally smaller livestock farms at the expense of more extensive crop farms.
France is negotiating on the basis that this premium would apply to hectares equivalent to the average farm size in each EU country, which would be about 50 hectares in France, Le Foll told journalists. "In my view we'll get this through."
France receives some €7 billion in EU payments a year. Such a mechanism for smaller farms could mean a transfer of several hundred million euros from big farms to small ones.
The size of the overall EU farm budget for the 2014-2020 period should be known in early 2013, when stalled talks over the total EU budget resume.
Le Foll already said he accepted there would be some sort of cut in the CAP budget, even if the main beneficiary of farm payments will keep fighting for a better deal.
Talks on a new EU farm policy are due to end in June next year for a launch in 2014.