Agriculture Atlas | The Biggest Beneficiary

Common Agricultural Policy payments account for 95% of total farm subsidies.

France is the largest recipient of Common Agricultural Policy funds. But there are significant disparities among the country’s regions, between types of production, and among farms.

by Jacques Loyat

In France, two-thirds of the Common Agricultural Policy subsidies are “decoupled area payments”, granted to farms regardless of their production method.

France’s budget allocation under the Common Agricultural Policy has evolved over the last 30 years. It rose from 5.6 billion euros in 1990, to 9.3 billion in 1995, and peaked at 10.4 billion in 2005. It has since dropped gradually: 9.7 billion euros in 2011, 9.3 billion in 2013, and 9.1 billion per year for the period 2014–2020. Inflation has amplified the decline in the budget since the early 2000s.

France has always been the main beneficiary of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy funds, which now pay out over 60 billion euros per year to farmers across Europe. The 9.1 billion euros currently allocated to France each year includes 7.7 billion in direct payments to farmers (known as Pillar I), and 1.4 billion for rural development programmes (Pillar II). After the post-2020 reform, France will still be the primary recipient of funds.

Roughly 44 percent of farm incomes in France in 2013 came from these funds – mainly in the form of direct payments from Pillar I. The average farmer received 266 euros a year for each hectare that was eligible for support. Marked differences exist between types of production, regions and farmers, because the system of aid allocation is based on a historical approach. In Picardy, farmers get 345 euros per hectare, compared to 120 euros in Languedoc-Roussillon; field crops are awarded 300 euros per hectare, while mixed farming gets 285 and cattle grazing just 200.

In 2015, the 7.44 billion euros allocated to France under Pillar I was appropriated as follows: 30 percent was devoted to “greening” (measures that benefit the environment), 5 percent as an extra premium to benefit small farms, 1 percent for young farmers, and 15 percent coupled to certain types of production. The remaining 49 percent were designated for basic payment entitlements.

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For medium and large farms, the total assistance in 2016 amounted to 47,270 euros for the average beef cattle enterprise, or 54.4 percent of the turnover of such farms. The average mixed farm received 39,460 euros, or 21.1 percent of its turnover. Dairy farms received 35,350 euros, or 20 percent of their turnover, while cereal and oilseed growers got 32,630 euros, or 25.7 percent. Smaller amounts were allocated to pig-raisers (19,510 euros, or 3.3 percent) and poultry-farmers (15,780 euros, or 4.2 percent).

These figures show that dairy and beef farmers are the most heavily subsidized types of enterprises. They benefit from substantial amounts of coupled support as well as compensation for natural disadvantages – a result of their location in more challenging regions. Mixed crop-livestock farms benefit from a combination of coupled and uncoupled support and from rural development assistance, resulting from the diversity of their production types and their location.

The regional distribution of funds depends on the major production types in each region and the size of rural development funds. The 25,000 farms in the Centre region each receive an average of 27,700 euros in subsidies. In Rhone-Alpes, the 39,000 farms get 11,700 euros each. That compares with an average of just 6,500 euros for each of the 30,800 farms in Languedoc-Roussillon.

The larger the farms, the more money they get from EU subsidies, but the smaller the share of their total turnover.

The level of support from Pillar II as a percentage of total assistance varies strongly from one region to another. While this Pillar accounts for more than 30 percent of the support in the southern regions of Auvergne, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur and Languedoc-Roussillon, it constitutes less than 11 percent in France as a whole. In Limousin, Franche-Comté and Rhône-Alpes, it accounts for between 20 and 30 percent of the support, while in Aquitaine, Burgundy and the Midi-Pyrénées it contributes between 10 and 20 percent. All these regions are in the centre or south of France. In the rest of the country, Pillar II made up less than 10 percent of the total support.

Although the subsidies vary widely from one farm or region to another, they are overall very important for France’s rural economy. As a result, defending the Common Agricultural Policy budget is the main battle that France fights every time EU funding comes up for discussion – either to maintain the budget total, or at least to defend its share of the total EU budget pie.

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