PROUD TO BE A FARMER
I received in the last days of February and in quick succession, three French articles that have heckled me, and that I want to analyze in a parallel.
The first one, published on February 17 on challenges.fr, entitled "Is the French agriculture sick?" http://www.challenges.fr/economie/20150217.CHA3146/l-agriculture-francaise-va-vraiment-mal.html
The second one, published by Franck Gintrand on slate.fr on February 21, is entitled "Surrealistic Agricultural Show" http://www.slate.fr/story/98123/surrealiste-salon-agriculture
The third one, published by Marion Desreumaux on délitsdopinion.com on February 27, is entitled "The French who like farmers, but less agriculture? » http://www.delitsdopinion.com/1analyses/des-francais-qui-aiment-les-agriculteurs-mais-un-peu-moins-lagriculture-18148/
I think what is happening in France can be extended to many industrialized countries, although the phenomenon has not everywhere the same intensity, there is a safe bet that we will see the phenomenon worsen in the coming years unless agriculture, farmers and agricultural organizations and trade unions are able to change the trend.
First of all, we observe on challenges.fr that "in 2014, farmers' incomes are expected to fall by 5% to 24,400 euros, according to early estimates.
Breeders are still worse off. For example cattle farmers have seen their income drop by more than 20% to 14,500 euros per year.
But this year, two spinnerets join the breeders in the rank of the lowest paid farmers. First, the fruit growers with annual sales revenue falling by over 55% to 13,400 euros. Involved, a production of peaches and apricots abundant with low prices, and the Spanish competition pulling prices down.
But above all it is the grain producers, until now considered the rich sector of agriculture, which bear the brunt of the fall in cereal prices. They should record in 2014, a revenue loss of about 40% to 11,500 euros per year.
In this gloomy picture, only the vine growers and dairy farmers are spared. "
As a first observation, farmers often live badly, with modest or low incomes. Because it's difficult to live in France with 14,500 euros per year, even worse with 13,400 euros, and even more with 11,500 euros, less than 1,000 euros per month.
It is known as the years go by and not alike. This is often true, but not always. Sometimes they look alike.
There are always a few farmers that are going better than others, which are often taken as an example of success or wealth. Yet the reality is that described in the article by challenges.fr.
The French and European agriculture as a whole through a very difficult period.
The article does not mention the huge price distortions between the price paid to the farmer and that paid by the consumer. Yet the theme appears in a comment. How the consumer, whose share of the budget spent on food continues to rise, can he understand that the farmer is worse off than him? Currently, I mean in the winter period 2014-2015, the potatoes are paid to the farmer to 4 cents / kg, oranges to 7 cents / kg. With these prices, the farmer does not cover its costs, is losing money and has no choice but to have to go into debt to continue.
These same products, paid to these shockingly low prices, are sold in stores to the consumer, between 20 and 40 times the original price. This is unacceptable.
How has the system been able to vitiate at the point that the only two really indispensable links in the chain, that is to say, the producer and the consumer, are the only victims? All other links (packaging or control or transportation companies, commercial operators, wholesalers, retailers, supermarkets), live well, or very well.
How can governments allow to sustaining such a situation that affects almost everyone, including the state itself?
Because when the purchasing power declines, food is the first necessity and the whole consumption is reduced.
Furthermore the farmer, with a low income, is sentenced to live in self-sufficiency, stops investing, and doesn't consume anything.
And everyone is surprised to see that the economy of industrialized countries is stagnating.
Then on delitsdopinion.com, we find that several opinion surveys on agriculture have been recently published:
"In a recent Harris Interactive poll, conducted for Groupama on occasion of the Agriculture Show of Paris, 72% of French people say they have a good picture of farmers. Few professions can now boast of having one as good. This is based primarily on the representation of the "work" value (90% of French people believe that farmers work great) and the sense of commitment (74% consider that farmers represent well this value), as well as a heritage defense conjugation (76% identify them as the guarantors of the natural heritage of the country) and modernity (84% say they have been able to integrate new technologies into their business). Nearly 2/3 of French people (64%) even argue that farmers should be considered as an example. Same tone in the Odoxa poll for Le Parisien, where the rate of "good opinion" goes to 82%. Farmers are being skilled of helpful (96%) and brave (94%), impassioned (90%) and sympathetic (73%).
The image of feeder, hard at work, cultivating the attic of France or raising livestock to fill our plates continues and is a part of the identity of our country. This is probably why so many politicians throng the aisles of the Salon de l'Agriculture. In addition, the farmer's job is associated with a significant sense of sacrifice: the fact of no counting the hours, of not taking holidays ... often for income considered as not being up to the level of the effort. In this context, it would be churlish to criticize farmers which our country could not do without. And it is quite welcome to promote the involvement or even a form of self-denial. »
It's OK, the French people have a very positive and virtuous opinion of farmers and values they represent, and that's good. Poorly paid but useful (!!!), courageous and friendly.
Let us be proud! But is this for us something?
Because everything is not all sweet.
"On the issue of subsidies, the French are fairly ambivalent. Certainly 47% of the French people describe, in the farmers image barometer of the Ifop institute for Dimanche Ouest France, farmers as "assisted", that is to say, dependent on public assistance (+3 points compared to 2014). But this figure had already reached 61% in 2006. And a majority wants subsidies persist or are amplified. In fact, 76% say they feel the need "to continue to subsidize agriculture to maintain a rural France.
Regarding food safety, 51% of French denounce in the Odoxa poll, a profession they consider insufficiently attentive to this issue. In the Harris Interactive poll, nearly one in three French people, thinks even agriculture is inefficient to reduce risks in food safety for the consumer (traceability, labeling ...). In the Ifop barometer, if a majority of French people believes it can trust the farmers, this proportion fell by 3 percentage points since 2014 and 13 points since 2003. In addition, the French are this year only 52% to judge the farmer is friendly to their health against 59% in February 2014 and 69% in 2013. This relatively sharp deterioration carries questions.
Most importantly, in the Harris Interactive poll, 61% of French believe that French agriculture is ineffective in the fight against pollution of water, air and soil. In Odoxa survey, 64% believe that agriculture is not otherwise sufficiently attentive to the environment, 52% qualifying therefore farmers "polluters". Same criticism manifested in the Ifop survey: only 44% of the French people consider that farmers are environmentally friendly, down 5 points since 2014 and 12 points since 2012. The impact of agriculture on environment is therefore a potential point of tension between the French people and farmers. »
What a situation! The farmer is actually a helpful friendly virtuous poor brave polluter, dangerous and attended. The portrait advance, but it is grinning. One can only wonder what kind of strange being is about to appear.
Fortunately, the Agricultural Show of Paris will take steps to reconcile the population and agriculture. Is this so sure?
"The Show capitalizes on a friendly and informal image, that of an emblematic and mediatic event. A surreal image very far from modern agriculture. Despite the short traditional visit of the President of the Republic and of the entire political class, the Show makes it a point of honor to maintain this surreal gap between the vision of a becoming marginal rurality, and realities of an agricultural world who took an impressive technological shift.
Certainly, the Show organizers are not totally unaware of that. They rightly chose as the theme of "Agriculture in motion" for this year 2015 edition, to promote modern scientific techniques used by the profession. But clearly, the choice of theme is a formality quickly shipped. On the website of the event are, next to the theme, topics such as "I love animals", "Bar and wine cellar", "Local products", "General Agricultural Competition" ... Besides, this year, the space for animals will increase.
A Show that lies knowingly about the reality of modern agriculture.
An almost timeless image... Yet agriculture has tremendously progressed. And despite his critics say, it is not limited to the debate on the use of fertilizers or the development of GMOs. Who will tell this, if farmers are not convinced themselves, if they are paralyzed, complexed to the point of hiding behind an outdated frontage?
Within a few years, farmers have moved from traditional agriculture to intensive agriculture and then to very high precision farming. Through satellite guidance systems, a tractor is no longer driven like yesterday. Thanks to information systems, a cow is no more milked today, like it was done before, even in the 1990s.
More decisive, the use of mathematical models to optimize the use of a field, the importance of molecular biology, integrated pest management and plant breeding to protect ecosystems against threats, or modern genetics to better understand the physiology of an animal, the architecture of irrigation networks that now allow to grow wheat almost anywhere, even in the desert ... And what is to say about the progress that has been made to save water, improve animal welfare, design products more suited to the demands and constraints of modern life? Yes, these are the realities we should dare to valorize, since all these aspects are now the heart of the occupation of farmer or rancher in developed countries.
Moreover, it is by mastering these upheavals that our agricultural production is the first of the European Union, up to 18%, far enough ahead of Germany, Spain and Italy, which are to about 12%. France is one of the countries with the highest levels of per capita productivity and cereal yields in the world, with the United States, Australia and Brazil. Our agri-food sector remains competitive internationally with a trade surplus since the 1970s, including in recent years marked by the crisis.
So how to explain that the Agriculture Show does not make more visible the technological advances and innovative machines that enabled these results? That would certainly delight children and probably their parents, as well as the softness of the wool of a sheep or the taste of a local sausage. »
Here we attack another level, however closely linked with the previous articles.
It seems that there is some complex, a sort of shyness of the agricultural world.
Maybe it comes from the excessive and unwarranted pressure on him, dangerous and insidious combination of:
-an approximate shape of diffuse environmentalism in the population, often uneducated on agriculture, and blind as soon as it is spoken about environment,
-the irrational fear of poisoning, strongly supported by environmentalists and widely reported by the media and governmental administrations, while the risk has never been so low since the world began,
-a sort of awkwardness of agricultural organizations, not always in tune between them, to form a common front in defense "of a certain idea of agriculture," and therefore each pulling the blanket to him,
-a clear populism of the political class, for which 5.6% of employment and 3.6% of GDP does not necessarily weigh very heavily in the politico-electoral balance, even if "many politicians throng the alleys of Agricultural Show. "
-and the impotence of scientific and technique agricultural organizations, often blocked, either by the "politically correct" orientation of their works, or by excessively low budgets, or suspected of partiality for having to seek financing from private companies, in order to maintain their business and the jobs that depend on it.
"And if farmers also assumed their job with pride?
The bet deserves to be addressed, as it is a great scientific and human adventure. Unfortunately, the opinion does not always realize, and remains suspicious about agricultural technology, between the ethical controversies surrounding GMOs and the excesses of a few large multinationals involved in the "Green Revolution". But how blame it if the Show, which is the unique opportunity to celebrate agriculture in France, does not fulfill its mission of education and information, as does, for example, the World of Agriculture and Breeding of SIMA, unfortunately too little known?
Such ambition is far from inaccessible. Officials may fear a lack of audience by upsetting their strategy, but they are not expected to show whether cautious. In the US, the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago has been remarkably successful, specifically for its ability to offer concrete and playful experiences for a family audience, in a revamped agricultural universe, revealing the sometimes incredible feats that our current production systems daily demonstrate.”
This way, the public could feel the real evolution of agriculture, understand the issues, and note that farmers are not any more these dangerous and assisted polluters, regularly presented to them.
Indeed in my opinion, it is very simplistic and counterproductive to maintain, in the consumer’s mind, year after year, the farmer's image just like the good traditional peasant in his folk costume, with the main attractions of shows, in livestock competitions and wine tasting, cheese and delicatessen.
I'm not saying we should remove them, this friendly and crude image participates in the generally positive opinion. But as it says in the article, it should be done more emphasis on the many aspects of very modern and high-tech agriculture.
Precision agriculture is more and more a reality, and it's also one of the main available means to meet the productive and environmental coming challenges.
And never forget that agriculture is a highly strategic sector. That is both
- A bargaining chip: industrial products are swapped with agricultural products with countries with few other resources,
- A geopolitical weapon: see what happens in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia: to protest against the blockage, Russia closed its borders to food products from countries supporting these measures. The result is an agricultural crisis by excess production,
- An environmental control tool, maintaining many natural balances, contrary to what one would have us believe. Just imagine the Landes (former marshland in the South of France) without agriculture and forestry? We should certainly observe the return of malaria, to name one example,
- An essential basis of the industry and crafts by providing numerous raw materials (see in this regard, my article Nº30 "They're everywhere," September 2014).
Leave the agriculture left to itself, like the European Union seems to want to do, is also and above all, take the risk of leaving disappear expertise and knowledge of many farmers, agronomists and agricultural technicians, ruined or tired of making efforts without return, retrain or leave relocate in countries, often in development, who themselves know value their skills.
Farmers must learn to reveal their job to consumers who do not know, just by showing and explaining reality, with the support of officials and scientific organizations. Agriculture has been metamorphosed (see my post No. 2 "metamorphosis" of January 2014) but, apart from the farmers, who is aware of?
A communication directed to the consumer may only have a positive effect on his opinion and an indirect positive effect on consumption.
Agriculture as a whole has everything to gain, but we have to find the right way to do it.
Let us be proud of being farmers. Let us be proud of the hard work we do every day for the population to have available an abundant, diverse and healthy food.