Margins of progress in cattle breeding

A report by the Chambers of Agriculture points out the "average performance" of French cattle farms, both in milk and meat.

The so-called erosion of the competitiveness of French agriculture deserves to be put into perspective, according to the Chambers of Agriculture in a report that looks back over the entire period 1970-2020. Admittedly, the trade balance is deteriorating. Admittedly, "the market shares held by France at the beginning of the decade 2000 have been halved in 2018", due in particular to the "intensification of European competition". But if one compares with the other segments of the national economy, "the French agro-food industry is characterised by a trade surplus whose longevity is surprising. »

The report also suggests that we "qualify the often advanced diagnosis that labour costs are the primary explanation for the dropout from French agriculture. In reality, other items (veterinary expenses, input costs, including those related to animal feed) weigh heavily in the reduction of France's competitiveness. On the other hand, certain assets remain, such as the cost of land, one of the lowest in Europe, compared with that of the Netherlands, Germany or Denmark. "Close-up on the cattle sector.

Milk: need for productivity

"With an average livestock population close to that of its competitors and relatively large surfaces, French dairy farming appears to be rather extensive. Technically and economically, the performance of French farms does not place them at the top of the table, with an average milk yield [in 2016] of 6,856 kg per cow (compared with 7,597 in Germany) and a total product/total cost ratio that is barely equal to 100%. The value of the latter ratio reflects the reality felt by French farmers when they say that the results of their activity barely cover their expenses. Elsewhere in Europe, the main competitors of French breeders have a ratio higher than 100%. »
"The production costs of French dairy farms are in the high average range of costs observed in the main [EU] Member States present on the dairy markets; it seems that this result is more related to a productivity deficit than to a specific additional cost. The improvement in the competitiveness of French dairy farming would rather come from an improvement in its productivity and technical performance. »

Beef and veal: the need for competitiveness

"Among the major beef-producing EU countries, France stands out for the presence on its territory of a significant suckling livestock sector; despite this, the sector's foreign trade is in deficit: the surplus in trade in live animals does not compensate for the deficit in trade in beef. French suckler farms have some advantages: they are large farms that mobilise relatively little capital compared with what is seen elsewhere in Europe; the main reason for this is that land costs are much lower in France than elsewhere in the EU. As regards production costs, those of French farms are on average higher than those observed in the main Member States present on the markets, at least in the breeder sector, which is the sector that exports (live animals). »

"Do French beef cattle producers have areas for improvement in terms of production costs? In comparison of the cost structure of suckler farms in Europe, the relatively high weight of depreciation in French livestock farming is a sign that farm investment is weighing on their economy. If there were to be a point of improvement in the economic conduct of farmers, it would be on the side of their investment behaviour, which is perhaps not optimal and which weighs on their competitiveness. »

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