This year’s intense drought in France has already led to the elimination of fallow fields. It has also created tensions that are not so favourable to the negotiations over the EU’s new Common Agricultural Policy. EURACTIV France reports.
According to France’s main agricultural trade union, FNSEA, 14,000 farms out of 440,000 have filed compensation claims, following the extreme heat and lack of rain that ravaged France during the spring and summer.
These periods of extreme heat and rain have created severe problems for a sector that is already fragile. Crop loss leads to a loss of revenue, especially for the summer crops, such as maize, sugar beet, potatoes and pastures, which have been hit the hardest.
Winter crops, such as wheat, barley and rapeseed, are doing quite well in terms of volumes, but international market prices are relatively low.
For affected crops, compensation only works for farmers who are insured, and few farmers can fully insure their crops. According to the French Insurance Federation, the annual cost of drought periods is continuously increasing, reaching up to €700-900 million a year, depending on the year.
For 2019, FNSEA estimated agricultural losses to amount to €80 million. The problem is mainly that these losses will affect some parts of the country, such as the Massif Central and the North-East more than others.
Sacrificed fallow fields
In response to this situation, the French agricultural ministry has decided to advance the payment of CAP subsidies to October, exempt farmers from property tax on undeveloped properties and delay the payment of contributions to the country’s primary social cover system for farmers, the Mutualité Sociale Agricole (MSA).
Faced with droughts, which are known to be facilitated by climate change, the French government has also authorised the suspension of a measure to combat climate change. That is quite a paradoxical move.
As part of the CAP’s ‘greening’ measures, farmers leave 15% of their land to rest each year, so that they can be used as fallow fields. This allows for the better absorption of water and CO2. It also will enable soils to capture water and CO2 better, thus limiting carbon emissions from the agricultural sector.
However, this summer, the agricultural ministry authorised 33, then 60 of France’s 95 departments to mow down the fallow fields for the land to be used as fodder.
This is a delicate context for negotiations on the CAP’s future, which will resume as soon as the new European Commission starts working after 1 November.
With France being one of the EU’s leader in terms of agriculture, the fragility of farms will necessarily weigh heavily in the debate, particularly when it comes to environmental issues.
Already at the end of its rope, the agricultural sector is not ready to accept new constraints. The sector already considers the CAP’s environmental requirements to be excessive compared to international competition. The industry also finds that these requirements are being exacerbated by the signing of free trade agreements, such as the CETA and the EU-Mercosur deals.
This week, French Agriculture Minister Didier Guillaume categorically opposed the idea of condemning the spreading of pesticides around houses within an area of 150 metres. The mayor of Langouët, Brittany, had made such a proposal in an order, which has recently been suspended by administrative courts.
FNSEA President Christiane Lambert accused the mayor of “creating a buzz”.
An exclusion zone for the plant protection products is being discussed in France and will come into force from 2020. The area should not exceed five metres.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]