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After milk quotas

French dairy farmers look for a way ahead after Brussels gives up the European supply management system

French dairy farms are in turmoil. France is the second-largest dairy producer in the European Union, and for the past 30 years, governments there had used quota to tie milk production to assigned farm regions. But then Brussels pulled the plug on the EU quota system in 2015, and now decisions about where and how its cows are milked are up to farmers and their co-operatives or private companies.

“The result is that all producers are lost in a open and volatile market,” says Katrine Lecornu, a French dairy producer and president of the European Dairy Farmers (EDF).

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Dairy here is big business. France is home to the world’s largest dairy processors, including Lactalis, Danone and Sodiaal. As well, four out of 10 litres of milk produced in the country are exported.

The producer price of milk remains the biggest challenge. Producers who ship for value-added niche products such as organic milk or specialty cheeses, and producers who are tied in with local markets can get better returns, but they represent less than 10 per cent of French production.

French President Emmanuel Macron says he is on the side of farmers and he is looking for a new social contract based on animal welfare and a non-GMO feed and grazing system. But he has yet to find a formula to set a “fair price.” Nor has he been able to get the country’s four leading supermarket chains to stop driving down the price of dairy products to attract consumers.

Read the three stories in our Country Guide series below:

  • The most hated farm in France
  • Organic milk: 1,000 farms for one cow
  • Setting their own quota

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