From tackling the decline of young farmers to the announcement of a ‘third agricultural revolution’: what has the newly re-elected French president, Emmanuel Macron, promised for the country’s agricultural sector? EURACTIV France reports.
Macron has laid out his ambitious vision for agriculture in France to be implemented during his second mandate as president. His plans consist of four main pillars: generational renewal; a ‘third agricultural revolution’ marked by the use of breakthrough technologies; ecological planning and upholding France’s climate commitments; and implementation of its national plan for the reformed Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
In February 2022, Macron announced that he wanted to launch a major “orientation and future law to ensure the renewal of generations, training and the installation of young farmers.”
He will push for the recruitment of 20,000 young people per year into the industry – a sizeable increase from the current numbers of 12,000-14,000 – he told observers at a recent debate between presidential candidates organised by the FNSEA.
Although the details of this proposed draft bill are still unclear, it will contain measures that will facilitate access to land for newcomers, including, for example, land portage.
“If the newcomer can be supported by alternative structures, at least initially, it is a good thing,” French liberal MEP Jeremy Decerle, who is close to the current government, told EURACTIV.
According to him, it is important to improve the existing support systems for setting up, based both on aid such as the young farmer’s grant (DJA) but also on human support, training and technology.
“What is reassuring is that 98% of the young people who benefit from these measures are still in business 5 to 10 years later, so there are already results,” he added.
But Green MEP Benoît Biteau said he expects nothing from this draft bill, noting that the problem is area-based aid.
“As long as we are going to distribute per unit area, we are going to favour the large structures and encourage the enlargement of structures,” he said.
A ‘third agricultural revolution’
At the Salon de l’Agriculture in February, Macron also spoke of a ‘third agricultural revolution’, based on his push for a new era in France and Europe marked by digital, robotics and genetics.
“The third agricultural revolution, that of sustainable agriculture, is underway,” he tweeted at the time.
The aim is also to take advantage of the €30 billion France 2030 investment plan to stimulate innovation, which MEP Decerle sees as the key to progress.
This revolution will make it possible to “get away from certain pesticides, to get away from certain practices, to improve the quality of life and to improve productivity,” Macron said, during the presentation of the plan.
But environmental associations like Greenpeace view these “breakthrough technologies” as a rushed venture that “perpetuates the productivist logic of the dominant agricultural model, which supports the deleterious industrialisation of our agriculture.”
Macron intends to regulate new breeding technologies (NBTs), including at the EU level, in response to recent debate over their NBTs’ status as genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Should NBTs be deemed to be “new GMOs”, they could circumvent the currently applicable GMO regulation of 2021.
“Varieties adapted to drought will not exist in the next 20 years,” Biteau, who is a former geneticist, also said. According to him “these are false promises,” made by France’s agri-business, adding that “the only GMOs that exist are pesticide GMOs, tolerant to molecules such as glyphosate or which produce pesticides themselves.”
“Rather than saying it’s dangerous or not, we need answers. If we can find solutions in NBT, let’s put in place the means to ensure that health expectations are met, and then let’s go. Let’s stop spending years asking questions,” said Decerle, dismissing such warnings.
In his speech between the two election rounds, Macron said he wants to go “much further” when it comes to addressing climate change than he did during his previous five-year term.
Macron promised to make ecological planning a key component of his term to sway voters of far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon – who came in at a close third in the first round and could not participate in the final one.
France’s agricultural sector, the country’s second-largest greenhouse gas emitting sector, is thus key in achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 – a pledge made in 2017.
It remains to be seen whether Macron will maintain the course set by the European Green Deal and the flagship Farm to Fork strategy in particular, which by 2030 aims to halve pesticide use and fertiliser use by 50% and 20%.
However, according to Macron, these aims were set in a “pre-Ukraine war world”, meaning these objectives are now being called into question.
To make the ecological transition a key part of his five-year term, Macron also announced he would appoint a prime minister “directly responsible for ecological planning.”
CAP, glyphosate, risk management
France is expected to adopt the final version of its national strategic plan for the reformed CAP by the coming autumn so that it can be applied from 2023.
The French government must now respond to the comments the European Commission made on the plan in March. The substance of the plan is not expected to change much.
Macron is expected to take action on a number of issues. These include strengthening both the plant protein plan and the Egalim 2 law that protects farmers’ incomes, implementing so-called “mirror clauses” for agricultural imports, and food vouchers for low-income households.
Biteau is also looking forward to what Macron will push for with regards to glyphosate, as the president “did not succeed” in banning the pesticide by 2020 as he previously promised. It will be “a marker of his sincerity,” he added.
But according to Decerle, one of the major issues is risk management. “Support such as efficient insurance tools,” must be provided to help farms that have been heavily affected by frost and other devastating diseases such as mildew in the past two years, he said.
[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna/Alice Taylor/Nathalie Weatherald]