Areas of Focus: Fellowships
In collaboration with: French Ministry of Agriculture and Young Farmers Program
The Institute of Ranch Management sent fellow, Jason Reitz ’14, to France in May of 2013. The fellow travelled across France studying the country’s diverse ranching and farming methods. While abroad, Reitz met with representatives from the French Young Farmers Program and the French Ministry of Agriculture. Below are Reitz’s findings:
Factual Data Sheet:
Population: 65.7 million
Capitol city: Paris
Government: Unitary- State, Constitutional Republic
Largest Exports: Fighter planes/ Beef
Largest Imports: Tobacco, tropical fruits, & cotton.
Arable Land: 32%
Annual crops: 11.4 million hectares.
Permanent Crops: 226,000 hectares.
Labor Force: 3.9% of total population.
GDP: Contributes 3% of total GDP
Average farm size: 50 Hectares
Largest Agricultural Export Commodities: Beef is number one followed by dairy then wheat, barley, wine, sugar, corn, sorghum, rape seed, flax seed, sunflower seed oil, canola oil, lavender and apples.
Other agricultural commodities produced in France include:
Fruits: Apricots, cherries, olives, almonds, figs, various types of berries, peaches, nectarines, strawberries, and various citrus plants.
Vegetables: Nearly everything from A to Z.
Meats: Beef, pork, Poultry, various types of fowl, mutton, horse, quail, and some wildlife such as deer.
Climate by region:
Spring: cool, wet, and foggy (50 -72F)
Summer: moderately warm, wet, and cloudy with occasional fog (72-87F)
Fall: cold, wet, very little sunlight (28-40F)
Winter: cold, wet/icy, very little sunlight (mid teens- mid 40”s)
Spring: warm days; cool evenings, high exposure of sunlight. Moderate rainfall (59-75F)
Summer: hot, low rainfall, sunny, (85-105)
Fall: warm to slightly cool, moderate rainfall (58-72F)
Winter: Below freezing to moderately cool. Higher rainfall in this season than others.
Note: the North of France and the South of France are basically cut in two sections due to the two vary distinctive mountain ranges that run through the country which are the Great Pyrenees and the Alps. Unlike the Rocky Mountains, these two mountain ranges run East and West with the Alps eventually converting in a North/ South direction the farther East. Because of this East /West split, there tends to be more precipitation in the North and less in the South due to the high elevation of the mountain ranges that prevent the northern weather from reaching the South. Therefore, the south tends to be an arid landscape or environment while the land South of the mountains appears to be lush with a higher amount of rainfall. Since France has two very different environments between the north and the south, they are able to have different seasonal crop growth periods, which allow the agricultural sector to begin an earlier harvest or extend their period of production on certain products. This is unique because not very many other countries in Europe have that opportunity.
Production according to region:
Because the north of France obtains more rainfall and the land is more suitable for cultivation, the majority of annual crops are grown in this region. Also the majority of the dairies in France are found in the Northern states due to the cooler climate and the abundance of forage and supplemental feeds that help to increase milk production. Most of the land in the North appears to have deep nutrient dense soil that is dark in color. The landscape varies from gently rolling pastures or fields to flat cultivation crop areas to terraced hillsides.
The mountain region of France is where most of the beef cattle breeds are found. Because the mountain region is not suitable for cultivation, farmers that live in this region typically raise cattle sheep and goats. Usually the only crop that is farmed is hay from the rye grass meadows that litter the region. On occasion a wheat field will be found in the place of an abandoned hay meadow. The livestock in this area are typically grass fed and grass finished animals. Very rarely are they supplemented with grains. If the animals are supplemented with grains, it is usually within the last 3 to 4 weeks before the slaughter.
In the south region, the land is rocky and arid for the most part. Though, at the foothills of the mountains, the lands appears to be very fertile and has a high rate of yield per acre with accordance to the types of products that are grown in this region. Again, this region is dry and arid for the better part of the year, so the available resources limit the products that are grown in this region. Most of these products are very hardy plants and animals that can tolerate the extreme climate and rough terrain. A large majority of the wine production occurs in the south as well as the fruit production in general. Many of these plants don’t require a lot of water yet are grown in really fertile soil; therefore they are able to thrive for the better part of the year. Most of the animals that are raised in this area are native and tend to be the only animals suited for the environment. These animals include the wild and domestic pig, the Spanish horse along with the Camargue pony, the Spanish and Corrientes cattle and a variety of goats and birds. Of course the south also has a large variety of seafood from the Mediterranean ocean.
An interesting observation that I made while in country was that there were many wheat fields in this area. The locals told me that the variety of wheat that was grown in this area is intended for pasta production and the wheat in the North is to be used more for breads and flour because it wasn’t as hard. Usually if a field wasn’t being used as a vineyard it was planted in wheat and occasionally it would be planted in Alf-Alfa and rested in order to fix nitrogen back into the soil and replace nutrients back to where they could support a vineyard in the next few years to come.
Commercial agricultural products that are produced in France and that are to be sold on the export market are typically traded through the international and European trade commission as commodities. Most of the animals proteins produced in France are exported to other European countries as well as certain parts of Asia. France does not export beef and other animal protein products to the American continent unless it is a type of niche good or novelty item because the Americas produce far more meat products than Europe and they cannot compete with our market. Also, the logistics and cost of shipping and inspection would lower the profit margin substantially. Products like wine, lavender, rapeseed oil and flax seed are all products that we would see being exported more commonly to the U.S.
Most agricultural products like meats, grains and fruits and vegetables are marketed throughout the country for itself. France is a country roughly the size of Texas and has a population of over 60 million people and rapidly increasing daily. Therefore, most of the food produced in France is consumed in France. Most of the food grown in France is distributed at the local markets near the farms in which it was produced and harvested. Every village that I lived in or even visited had its own market place. Usually the market was located in or near the village square or center. Usually the market is where a person would find meats, cheeses, fruits and vegetables and bread. Nearly all of the products sold in the market were produced within 10 to 20 miles from that particular village. Other than cheese and cured meats, most products were no more than 24 hours old from the time of harvest. The bread is baked fresh that morning and the fruits and vegetables were harvested the evening before as well as the meats. The vendors only bring enough products for that particular day and usually sell out before noon. If an individual doesn’t want to purchase items at the market then they can also go to specialty shops. France is known for its exquisite butcheries and bakeries and it is not uncommon to find either of the two littered throughout a village. France does have a small number of American style supermarkets popping up around the country, though many of the locals that I spoke with said that they do not intend on frequenting these stores and that they mainly get refrigerated milk and canned goods when they go to a supermarket.
The French people love their cuisine. Therefore, many of the people are very picky when selecting their food at the market. Typically the products being sold at the market are the “crème de la crème” of what the farmer has produced. The main reason is because the farmer or producer puts his or her name on their products everyday at the market and if they sell low quality items, then they will go broke and that particular producer will be the talk of the village. Also, there are no agricultural products that are intended for human consumption that are produced with GMO’s in France. The people of France voted against the use of GMO’s in their food products. Fertilizers and crop protection aides are still used, yet more common than not, most of the products sold at market are produced organically.
Outside of purchasing petroleum products, over half of a typical family income is spent on food products. Fast food restaurants are also very rare in France. McDonalds is one of those restaurants. The French were very excited to finally get a McDonalds chain in their country until the farmers realized that none of the products used for the restaurant actually came from France. So, the farmers made a petition and won the majority of the votes from the French citizens to ban McDonalds from France unless McDonalds used all French products in the French McDonalds restaurant chain. That’s what I call community-supported agriculture.
A really interesting program called “The Young Farmers” (France) is really helping the agricultural community grow in France. This program is funded by the French Department of Agriculture and is designed to get the younger generation back into farming and fill the positions of old and retired farmers. The program has been very successful and there are an increasing number of applicants every year since the start of the program. Not all of the members of the young farmers are particularly young but they are below the national average age and many are not familiar with agriculture or have a minimal background in agriculture. Others are well experienced and very educated in agricultural practices yet lack resources like land or capitol to start an enterprise. The French government helps these individuals with start up programs funded by the Ministry of finance through the Ministry of Agriculture and the Young Farmers Program.
In conclusion, France as a whole was a wonderful experience for me. I met so many friendly people that were very delighted to educate me about their country and their rich history and unique culture. France will continue to be a leader in agriculture both on an economic level and a resource management level. I felt like I had been taken back in time to a somewhat pre-industrial America or perhaps a pre World War II era where small family farms littered the country side and sustainable living was the norm, where people still utilized the markets in the small towns and supported their local farmers and ranchers. Lately, I’ve seen a rise in community supported agricultural co-ops here in the rural United States. They are considered to be niche markets due to the sheer volume. Personally I think it will take many years to get young people back into agriculture but with education and awareness, as well as programs like “The Young Farmers” program, I believe it is a very achievable goal. With an ever-growing global population it is very important that we conserve, protect and utilize the very precious land and fresh water resources that we still have available in a sustainable manner. Yet, the word “sustainable” to me sounds like a benchmark that one reaches in the middle a list of goals. Why don’t we go further than that and attempt to improve these resources by proper utilization and restoration through education, exposure and awareness? As a fellow of the Institute of Ranch Management at TCU I’ve been given the opportunity to be educated, exposed and aware of the opportunities and challenges that lay before all of us as global citizens and stewards of the land and resources that make up our very existence.
I would sincerely like to thank the Institute of Ranch Management at TCU, the Ranch Management Program and all of the sponsors that supported me throughout my trip in France. I would also like to thank the French Ministry of Agriculture and the Young Farmers Program for providing assistance to me while in country.
Jason C. Reitz
TCU class of 2014