Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Is French food culture under threat?

Market day in Bayonne

Not if a recent visit to Bayonne is anything to go by. On Friday evening I had an excellent meal at an not particularly pretentious restaurant. On Saturday morning, I wandered round the market where there was a wide variety of high quality goods on display from fish to vegetables. For a Brit, it was a bit of a shock to see a butcher selling horse meat.

There is an historic tradition of chocolate production in the town and I enjoyed a hot chocolate at a café, opened not so many years ago by entrepreneurs.

All may then seem to be well, but my French host thought there were a number of threats. Fast food was one, along with the traditional extended lunch going out of fashion. In the past one could go to a relatively cheap restaurant and have a decent meal with authentic ingredients prepared on the premises. There was now an increased reliance on industrialised ingredients.


Farming in the Pyrénées

Near Lescun, France

I am just back from a visit to the Pyrénées, specifically to the village of Lescun which is at a height of around 1,000 metres. Often large flocks of sheep were on the roads as 'transhumance' was taking place from the mountain areas to the valley floors. Read more about 'transhumance' here: Transhumance

The sheep here are used to produce milk from which cheese is made. This creates good value added, and along with subsidies, allows the peasants to survive. I was advised that 'paysan' is not a derogatory word in French: it is simply one of those words that does not translate well.

I also tasted yoghurt made from sheep's milk, although I preferred the product using goat milk.Reference was made to a 'progressive' local dairy farmer who had built her herd up to 20 cows. That would not be seen as viable in the UK, but it is a different style of farming.

The village

The population of the commune has shrunk as pastoralism has declined and the village has a number of second homes. Village children go to a school in the valley. Efforts have been made to ensure that there is good internet connectivity. There is a bed and breakfast (once a hotel) and some tourist activity related to the excellent opportunities for walking.

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Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Aid package for farmers

Dairy farmers in particular have been hit by a global surplus of milk and the Russian embargo on EU produce. Against a background of mass protests in Brussels, the Commission unveiled a package of €500m of aid at an emergency Agriculture Council meeting: Aid package

It was important to avoid any revival of market distorting intervention measures which would be potentially expensive and could have unintended consequences, as well as exacerbating the underlying problems rather than solving them. These measures are directed primarily at farm incomes and include measures such as advancing direct payments which should ease immediate cash flow problems.

CAP expert Alan Matthews provides an in depth analysis of the measures here: Help for dairy farmers


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Hogan meets with farm ministers

EU farm commissioner Phil Hogan is holding meetings with farm ministers ahead of an 'emergency' Farm Council meeting next month to discuss the difficult situation facing EU farmers, particularly those in the dairy sector: Phil Hogan

There are calls for a restoration of full blown intervention purchases, but the active use of this policy instrument would be a step back to the past.

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Monday, July 27, 2015

Demand growth for food likely to slow

Reports from the European Commission suggest that the growth in demand for food is likely to slow down due to declining population growth and more stabilisation in consumption per capita: Long-term trends

Despite slowing economic growth, China is likely to remain the main target for EU agri-food exports.

All this implies tighter export markets which are likely to restrain prices and make things more difficult for EU farmers.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Crop diversification measures have limited impact on farm income

The controversial crop diversification measures introduced in the last CAP reform have had a limited impact on farm income according to a new study: Crop diversification

However, individual farms may have been more substantially affected with some experiencing an income loss of as much as 10 per cent. However, it should be noted that only 38 per cent are farms are affected by the measure.

The NFU has complained about it a great deal in the UK and these figures question whether the measures are having much impact on their members. However, it may be that what was resented was what seen as an unnecessary intervention in farm level decision-making rather than any financial impacts.

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Monday, June 22, 2015

The dairy farming crisis

The chairman of the NFU's south-west dairy board, Mark Oliver, has announced that he is selling his herd and quitting agriculture. He has seen the milk price he receives from his dairy fall from 33-34p a litre a year ago to 25p a litre today, with the prospect of further drops. The break even point is thought to be around 28p a litre, although this can vary by farm.

The price farmers receive does vary considerably. A number of big supermarkets such as Tesco, Sainsbury's, Marks and Spencer and Waitrose pay an agreed amount above the cost of production. This would work out at around 32p a litre. However, fewer than 15 per cent of farmers have the protection of these contracts. Typically, prices in the UK have dropped by 25 per cent over the past year, producing a price of around 20p a litre, although some farmers receive even less.

The underlying drivers are supply and demand. Global milk production is rising by 5 per cent a year while demand is growing by just 2 per cent. The average cow in England and Wales produced 14 per cent more milk in 2013 than a decade earlier.

China's economic slowdown has reduced its demand while Russia imposed a ban on EU dairy products last year. The two countries account for not far short of a third of globally traded dairy products, so have had a significant impact on prices.

Chinese imports have jumped 14 times in the last decade. This is, of course, from a low base with milk and cheese being relatively new to the diet.

The number of dairy farmers in England and Wales has dropped by half over the past 12 years to just under 10,000. However, this means that the remaining farmers have better economies of scale, are generally more efficient and better able to compete internationally.

It's not all doom and gloom in the long run. The International Farm Comparison Network reckons that the world will need 30 per cent more milk by 2024. The demand would come from population growth and per capita dairy consumption rising by 14 per cent.

The Middle East and North Africa have seen rapid expansion of their dairy markets. While world trade of dairy products has doubled in the last decade, Middle Eastern imports have trebled and Maghreb countries have seen a 3.5 times rise. One of the main attractions of the region is the scope for processed dairy products such as cheese. In Asia the market has been mainly focused on milk and powdered milk.


Wednesday, April 08, 2015

What would British withdrawal from the EU imply for British farm policy?

Farmers are uncertain what impact a British exit from the European Union would have on their businesses. This is not surprising as so far there has been little systematic exploration of these issues, says the Farmer-Scientist Network which has been set up by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society.

The Farmer-Scientist Network is based at the Great Yorkshire Showground, and has assembled a working party of CAP experts from economics, law and political science chaired by Professor Wyn Grant of Warwick University. North Yorkshire farmer, Bill Cowling, who is best known as the Honorary Show Director of the Great Yorkshire Show, is a working party member and is helping to identify the issues that concern farmers in particular.

He comments: “The impact of a possible withdrawal from the EU cannot be under estimated. The Yorkshire Agricultural Society was established to drive forward developments in farming, and it is anticipated that this Network will encourage a more informed debate in the event of a referendum.”

The Network has raised the point that Britain would be outside the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and would have to devise its own agricultural policy. The shape of that policy would, however, be influenced by the form that the relationship with the EU took after exit and obligations under the international trade regime as Britain would remain a member of the World Trade Organisation.

Over the next few months the working party will examine:

  • Financial support for farmers post exit
  • The tariff regime that would be followed outside the EU
  • What would happen to environmental regulations
  • The availability of migrant labour

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