Farmland in France
19.12.2017, by Bénédicte Gaillard
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The Neolithic Revolution leading from nomadic to sedentary lifestyle has engendered an evolution from hunter-gatherer to sheep and cattle breeding, the cultivation of wheat and barley grains, on the territory of France around the 5th Century before JC. From this period on man works and plough the soil.
From the Revolution until the “Trente Glorieuses” (the thirty glorious years starting after the end of WWII) and while the whole territory is registered, 3 main tendencies characterise the land property: the progressive augmentation of the land prices, the concentration of exploitations around middle size units (generally between 10 and 50 ha for the soils of polyculture and breeding) and the land appropriation by the peasants.
After both WWI and WWII, agriculture becomes more industrial and intensive.
From the 1970’s agro-ecology and biological agriculture appear and slowly national and European regulations control the pesticides and genetically modified organisms as well environment protection.
It is dominant and characteristic of the landscape since it represents half of the national territory, it represents 3,5% of the gross domestic product of the country, there are 348.000 agricultural exploitations and 770.000 people fully employed in this sector.
The surface of agricultural land is divided as such:
18,4 millions of ha of arable soils among them cereals (9,4), temporary grassland and annual crop (4,9), oleaginous (2,3), other annual cultivation (1,3) and fallow land (0,5)
1 million of ha of permanent cultivation (orchards, vineyards)
7,7 millions of ha of permanent grassland
1,9 million of ha of agricultural land used off-farm among them collective grassland and off-field (1,8) and family gardens and orchards (0,1)
This surface is constantly decreasing because of the augmentation of wooded surfaces and mainly artificialised (modified) surfaces (around 3,4 millions of ha of built surfaces, covered or rendered unfit to cultivation:
*Not built (0,8 million of ha) corresponds to surfaces such as construction sites, quarries, court yards, pleasure gardens, waste lands, cemeteries)
*Covered soils (1,7 million of ha) correspond to roads and park places
*Built soils (0,9%) receive new constructions
The “Surface Agricole Utile (SAU)” or utilized agricultural land is a statistic instrument in order to evaluate the land surface declared by the farm operators as used by them for agricultural production, differing from the “Surface Agricole Totale (SAT)” or total agricultural land.
The SAU is composed by:
- arable soil (large cultivation, market gardening, permanent cultivation, forage crop, artificial (man made) grassland
- permanent grassland (permanent grassland, alpine pasture)
- perennial crop (vineyards, orchards)
- farmers family gardens
It does not include woods and forests but includes fallow lands, these soils are comprised in arable soils.
The French SAU corresponds to 29 millions of ha that is the half (54%) of the national territory with a repartition of 62% of arable soil, 34% of permanent grassland, and 4% of perennial crop.