French dairy woes loom over 30th edition of SPACE

Removal of the dairy quota has taken its toll on country’s dairy producers, but relief maybe on the horizon.

Protestors from the farmer’s union, Confederation Paysanne (Peasant Confederation), demonstrate in favor of relief for French dairy farmers at SPACE. | Jackie Roembke
Protestors from the farmer’s union, Confederation Paysanne (Peasant Confederation), demonstrate in favor of relief for French dairy farmers at SPACE. | Jackie Roembke

The 30th edition of the annual French livestock exhibition SPACE kicked off on Tuesday, Sept. 13, in Rennes. The 2016 event welcomed 1,445 exhibitors from 42 countries and expects to receive more than 100,000 visitors over the course of the four-day expo.

Despite the size and scope of the exhibition, the French dairy crisis weighs heavily on SPACE attendees and exhibitors. While the poultry and swine sectors have been dealt their own difficulties, the end of the milk quota last year greatly impacted French dairy producers, forcing many farmers to temporarily halt production or go out of business permanently.

To highlight the extent of circumstance, Jérôme Pavie from the French Institut de l'Élevage (Livestock Institute), notes that the cost of production for 1 ton of milk is EUR300 (US$337); however, the market value has hovered around EUR217/ton (US$244).

“Even the most efficient dairy farmers can only hope to break even,” Pavie said.

Farmer suicides

The social impact of the economic crisis is particularly troubling. According to Christiane Lambert, senior vice president of the National Federation of Farmers’ Unions (FNSEA), farmer suicides are on the rise.

“On average, one French farmer commits suicide every two days,” Lambert said.

Lambert suggests multiple factors have contributed to this trend including isolation, negative social media, and exhaustion from the nature of the work, but recent influx of deaths has broadened awareness.

“[FNSEA] is reaching out to rural farmers with site visits to try to combat the hopelessness,” she says.

Government relief

In early September, the European Commission announced efforts to reduce milk production and improve prices through the adoption of a commission delegated regulation. The measure encourages voluntarily reductions in milk production by offering EUR140/ton (US$157) of milk deliveries over a three-month period. In turn, the French government will complement the assistance by offering EUR100/ton (US$112) for the first 5 percent of reduced production.

On a positive note, multiple sources suggest the outlook for dairy producers will improve by November.

“We are optimistic about 2017,” says Jean-Luc Cade, president of Coop de France, noting that he expects a slight rise in French production and competiveness across all species in the year ahead.

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