France is traditionally an important player on the world’s grains market, supplying a range of markets, particularly in the nearby countries of North Africa, with which it has a close trading relationship. However, in 2020, poor weather conditions led to a spectacularly poor crop, sharply reducing the surplus available to the largest European Union Member State, by area.
The International Grains Council (IGC) put France’s total 2020-21 grains production at 57.6 million tonnes in its Oct. 29 Grain Market Report, down from its figure a month earlier of 59 million. The previous year’s output was 71 million.
The IGC put total wheat production at 30.5 million tonnes, down from its earlier forecast of 30.8 million, and also down from 41.1 million in 2019-20.
The 2020-21 maize crop was put at 13.6 million tonnes, down from the previous forecast of 14 million, but up on the 12.8 million harvested the year before.
France’s barley crop is forecast at 10.5 million tonnes, down on the earlier prediction of 11.2 million and on the previous year’s 13.7 million.
Sorghum production is put at 600,000 tonnes, unchanged from the earlier forecast, but up from 400,000 in 2019-20.
According to the IGC, French rapeseed production in 2020-21 is 3.3 million tonnes, an unchanged estimate, which compares with 3.5 million the year before.
The French agency FranceAgriMer forecasts the country’s total 2020-21 soft wheat exports at 13.477 million tonnes, down from 21.246 million the year before. Durum wheat exports are put at 1.09 million tonnes, compared with the previous year’s 1.571 million. It sees exports of barley at 7.09 million tonnes, against 9.216 million the year before. Exports of maize are put at 4.53 million tonnes, compared with 4.319 million the previous year.
FranceAgriMer expects rapeseed imports to total 1.86 million tonnes in 2020-21, compared with 1.6 million the year before, while exports of the crop are put at 1.102 million tonnes, with the previous year at 1.108 million.
For sunflower seed, the French agency puts 2020-21 production at 1.74 million tonnes, up from 1.299 million the year before, with imports at 150,000 tonnes, down from 35,000 tonnes in 2019-20. Exports of sunflower seed this year are forecast at 400,000 tonnes, down from 440,000.
France also produces soy with this year’s crop forecast at 490,000 tonnes, up from 430,000. Imports are expected to rise to 617,000 tonnes from the previous year’s 585,000, while France’s soy exports are seen at 173,000 tonnes, compared with 135,000 in 2019-20.
In an Aug. 5 report, the USDA attaché commented that “the mood is gloomy among wheat producers. The soft wheat crop is estimated to be the third smallest in history.”
The report names several factors behind the sharp decrease in production.
“Heavy rain in fall 2019 prevented sowing winter wheat in the best conditions and reducing planted areas by 700,000 hectares,” the USDA said. “A mild winter led to pest infestations, particularly aphids that impacted health of the crop and its development. The winter was followed by a dry spring leading to moisture stress and limiting grain filling, reducing its size and weight. On the other hand, the quality of the harvested wheat is estimated to be good, with a higher-than-average protein content.”
The same problems were behind reduced barley production, but the attaché explained that the maize crop was in much better condition “because the southwest of France is less impacted by the drought and a significant part of the corn crop is irrigated.”
As a member state of the European Union, farm policy in France is under the framework of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. Reform is currently being discussed with the aim to introduce a greater element of climate and environmental action, with more autonomy for individual countries to achieve the desired results under a system of national strategic plans. At the same time, the European Green Deal, with its Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies, introduced by the Commission under its German President Ursula von der Leyen, plans sharp cuts in the use of agrichemicals, along with an increase in the proportion of land farmed organically.
According to the flour milling sector’s trade body, the Association Nationale de la Meunerie Française (ANMF), there are around 394 production units in the industry, which use some 5 million tonnes of wheat each year, 15% of the crop. In 2018 they produced 4.05 million tonnes of flour, of which around 280,957 were for export. The industry’s turnover is roughly €1.8 billion ($2.13 billion) a year.
France has the second largest flour producing industry in Europe, behind Germany, and the 10th largest in the world. ANMF said that although the market is mature, the sector is continually evolving to respond to demand.
Exports of flour have been falling since the mid-1990s as some traditional importers built mills and became wheat importers. The French industry is now concentrated on supplying the domestic market.
The association moved, as a second lockdown began in France at the start of November, to reassure customers of supply, to avoid the hoarding and apparent panic buying reported, which emptied supermarket shelves of flour during the spring wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a statement issued on Nov. 3, ANMF President Jean-Francois Loiseau said the situation was different this time, with Europe’s internal borders remaining open and freight circulating freely. Consumers would still be able to buy 1-kilogram bags of flour. The closure of hotel, restaurant and catering outlets would likely mean an overall fall in demand for flour.
“It is therefore unnecessary for the consumer to buy flour in reckless quantities,” Loiseau said.
The French administration authorizes imports of GE products but restricts research and bans cultivation of GE crops, the USDA attaché said in a report on the issue dated Feb. 20.
“The current situation is unlikely to change in the short term,” the USDA attaché said.
The country does, however, depend on imports of genetically modified feed, notably soy, soymeal and rapeseed from North and South America.
“Opponents actively campaign against agricultural biotechnology in France and they have a strong influence on public opinion, which is generally opposed to using biotechnology for agriculture and food production,” the report said. “There is better acceptance among grain producers, animal feed compounders, the livestock industry, and scientists.”
An attaché report on biofuel consumption across Europe, dated June 29, put France’s 2020 usage at 620 million liters, down from 796 million the year before.
Consumption of road fuel generally has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In France, gasoline consumption is estimated to have declined roughly 75% during the first 11 weeks of the COVID-19 lockdown, from March 16 until June 1,” the report noted.
“Based on a recovery of the transport activity during the summer and the remainder of the year, annual gasoline use is forecast to decline by about 20%,” the report said. “As a consequence, annual bioethanol usage is forecast to decline by almost 22% this year.”
However, those forecasts were made before the French government’s decision to introduce a new lockdown at the end of October in response to a second wave of cases of the disease.
“Before the COVID-19 crisis, French bioethanol consumption was increasing due to an expansion of the number of gas stations that sell E10 and E85, combined with a lower price for these fuels compared to pure fossil gasoline,” the attaché said.
Chris Lyddon is World Grain’s European correspondent. He may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.