Sunday, 22 May, 2022

Why productivity is not the enemy of agriculture

Even if the future of French agriculture is not really at the heart of the debates of this presidential election, and we can only regret it, the question of the production model to promote arises. This is how our agricultural model is often accused of being productivist, as if its first objective were to produce ever larger volumes without taking into account the consequences on the environment or on health.

This vision no longer corresponds to what French agriculture is today.

For 20 years, agricultural production has stagnated after increasing by 1.6% per year between 1960 and 1996. Over the last five years, French wine production has fallen by 6%, while at the same time, it has declined. increased by 1% in Spain and 4% in Italy, the poultry sector lost 22% of its volumes and the French pig herd fell by 7%. At the same time, French agriculture has undergone profound changes with the permanent improvement in the quality of its products, the development of agri-environmental measures and the greening of the CAP.

For Coop de France, which represents 2,600 agricultural cooperatives to which three out of four French farmers belong, the issue for agricultural and food products today is less one of the quantities produced than of their value.

An important indicator in this regard is the decline in the productivity of our agriculture over the past 20 years to stand at around 0.6% per year against 1.7% for the period 1960-1996. However, productivity reflects the capacity of our companies to generate added value. The increase in the latter is of course linked to the volumes sold, but above all to the ability to lower costs, to move upmarket and to pay the right price.

Everyone knows today that we can no longer produce in order to produce! It is now the expectations of citizen-consumers, and therefore of the markets and of our customers, that control our outlets. These markets are multiple: already 550 agricultural cooperatives are engaged in organic; we are in both short circuits and long circuits; while producing locally, we can sell internationally and thus generate 23% of the turnover of our companies.

Innovation, logistics and digital optimization, environmental and societal performance are the keys to new agricultural productivity. So, let’s stop confusing productivism and productivity, and stigmatizing farmers who for 60 years have met the expectations of society while suffering the negative effects on their incomes of the slowdown in productivity gains.

Strong French agriculture will be value-creating agriculture. To do this, it must be diverse, sustainable, innovative and capable of conquering different markets, from local to international, from the direct channel to mass distribution, from conventional to organic. Agriculture and agrifood will then promote activity in rural areas, as agricultural cooperation does today with its 165,000 employees, three quarters of whom work in SMEs / VSEs.

Being productive is not a handicap and does not mean that one is productivist. On the contrary, it is a guarantee of sustainability, whatever the size of the farm or the cooperative.

By Michel Prugue, president of COOP DE FRANCE, and Pascal Viné his general delegate.