France is one of the world’s most important grain exporters and the driving force in the E.U.’s grain sector. After a poor 2016-17 crop, a recovery in the quantity and quality of grains production is expected in 2017-18. Its traditional export market is in North Africa, as well as in other E.U. countries, but French barley has made big inroads into the Chinese market in recent years.


According to the International Grains Council (IGC), total French production of grain in 2017-18 will be 68.2 million tonnes, up from 53.9 million the year before.

France’s wheat crop in 2017-18 is put at 40 million tonnes, up from 29.3 million, with the maize crop put at 13.1 million tonnes, up from 12.1 million. The IGC put France’s barley production in 2017-18 at 12.3 million tonnes, up from 10.1 million.

EU wheat producers
Source: Eurostat
French industry body FranceAgriMer forecasts French common wheat exports at 18.752 million tonnes in 2017-18, up from 11.752 million the year before. Of that total, 18.362 million will go as grain, while the rest is flour. Grain exports include 8.052 million tonnes to the other European Union countries, 10.2 million to non-E.U. countries and 110,000 to French overseas territories. Durum wheat exports are forecast at 1.53 million tonnes in 2017-18, up from 1.177 million the year before. Most go to the other E.U. member states, 1.05 million tonnes of grain (not including flour) in 2017-18, compared with 833,000 the year before. FranceAgriMer also forecasts 2017-18 maize exports at a total of 5.298 million tonnes, up from 4.691 million the previous year.


In a session on trading at the recent IAOM conference in Dubai, Jean-Pierre Langlois-Berthelot, president of French grain sector body France Export Céréales, looked at the big change in that country’s crop this year.

“Last year France had a terrible low crop and very poor quality,” he said. “This year we recovered to a normal situation. The growing conditions for this crop, 2017, were excellent.”

He started by looking at milling wheat, putting yield overall at 7.4 tonnes a hectare, slightly more than the five-year average. “About 46% of the crop in France is used in the domestic market,” he said. “We export to north Africa. Our main market for the moment is Algeria.”

EU corn producers
Source: Eurostat
France exports to other E.U. countries, including the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain, as well as to North Africa, sub-Saharan and Western Africa, the Middle East and Cuba.

“We have, this year, high protein content and high yield which is new,” he said, explaining that in the past there has always been a trade-off. “Protein content on average is 12.3%, and 65% of the crop is over 12%.

“For protein, you have to get the farmers to get protein. We had, this year, a lot of farmers who changed their practices.”

Bonuses for higher protein had stimulated the use of more nitrogen.

“New tools, like new varieties, are coming but they are not coming in one year,” he said. “The falling number is not an issue. This grain has a high baking value. On average W is over 196. This protein is good quality protein.”

Then he turned to durum, forecasting production at 2.16 million tonnes, the highest level for five years. He forecast yield at 5.7 tonnes per hectare.

“It’s the highest yield we’ve had for many years,” he said, noting that 71% of France’s durum crop is exported and the average protein is 14.8%.


France is also a major producer and exporter of oilseeds, notably rapeseed and sunflower but also soy. FranceAgriMer forecasts the total 2017-18 rapeseed harvest at 5.257 million tonnes, compared with 4.643 million the year before. It puts 2017-18 imports at 850,000 tonnes, down from 1.283 million the year before and exports are 1.55 million tonnes, up from 1.376 million the previous year.

France’s sunflower crop in 2017-18 will total 1.077 million tonnes, up from 1.066 million the year before, with imports at 510,000 versus 513,000 the year before. Exports were left unchanged at 317,000 tonnes.

Soy production in 2017-18 is forecast at 317,000 tonnes, up from 272,000 the year before, with imports at 770,000 tonnes, down from 907,000, and exports at 135,000 tonnes, up from 86,000.

A Competitor Report prepared by the U.K.’s Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board explains that French wheat production is concentrated in the northern half of the country.

“The regions of Picardie, Centre, Champagne-Ardenne, Haute-Normandie and Nord-Pas-de-Calais account for a little over half of the French production, with 51% of the harvest,” it said. “The Champagne-Ardenne, located in the northeast, is France’s leading producer of barley.”

France’s main grain export ports are Rouen, followed by La Rochelle. Rouen in the northwest of France, which, according to HAROPA, the group of ports of which it is a member, exported 9.1 million tonnes of grain in 2015-16. The total included 6.43 million tonnes of wheat and 2.374 million tonnes of barley.

The biggest destinations for grain exported through Rouen included Algeria, which took 3.5 million tonnes, Morocco, at 2.1 million, and China, at 1.2 million.

La Rochelle in the west on France’s Atlantic seaboard exported 4.3 million tonnes of grain in 2014.

Flour milling

According to the European Flour Millers, there were 439 mills in France in 2015 of which 34 have a production capacity greater than 50,000 tonnes (wheat equivalent) a year.

Average capacity usage is 65%. According to Association Nationale de la Meunerie Française (ANMF), the millers’ association, the industry produced 4.12 million tonnes of flour in 2016, of which 393,481 tonnes were for export.

ANMF, citing 2016 figures, said there are 360 businesses with 427 production units in the milling sector. Four of those companies, Nutrixo, Moulins Soufflet, ARIANE Meunerie and Grands Moulins de Strasbourg, with 34 mills, accounted for 55% of flour production.

Biofuels and biotech

French ethanol production in 2018 will be the same as in 2017 at 1.04 million liters, according to the attaché, making it the E.U.’s biggest ethanol producer. The feedstock is wheat, along with some sugar beet. French ethanol consumption is forecast to rise to 855,000 tonnes in 2018, from 840,000 in 2017, making it third in consumption in the E.U., behind Germany and then the U.K.

“In France, ethanol consumption is growing due to an increase in the number of gas stations that sell E10 and E85,” the attaché said. “Currently, more than half of French gas stations sell E10, and about 8% sell E85.”

In its report on the sector, the attaché said agricultural biotechnology is “a very sensitive and controversial subject in France.”

“Anti-biotech groups actively campaign against it and they have a strong influence on public opinion, which is generally opposed to products derived from biotechnology.” the attaché said. “There is better acceptance among grain producers, animal feed compounders, and scientists.

“France does not produce any agricultural goods derived from biotechnology for commercial purposes. However, the country imports GE feed, mainly soybeans and soybean meal from South America and rapeseed (canola) from Canada. French imports from the United States consist of soybeans and soybean meal.”

After the election of President Emmanuel Macron earlier this year, Nicolas Hulot was appointed Minister of State in charge of Ecological Transition. The attaché reported that the role would have second rank below the Minister of the Interior.

“This means this environmentally-oriented ministry will be many levels above the Minister of Agriculture in terms of their importance in the cabinet,” an attaché report on the political changes said. “Nicolas Hulot is a journalist who became highly popular in France for advocating for sustainable development and ecological causes. He has publicly and repeatedly opposed the use of biotechnology in agriculture, and consistently criticizes the use of pesticides and intensive agriculture in general.”