Wednesday, October 17, 2012

France: Fascinating,Romantic,Awesome,Naughty,Cold,Exhilarating.

France has always been a beautiful country and having the opportunity to revisit it is really special, even more so with a group of farmers from Australia and New Zealand.

Our expedition started in the pearl of France, Paris. Unfortunately over cast weather hindered the view of the typical Paris scenes, Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Des Champs Élysées, but did result in us scampering across the crazy round about known as Arc de Triomphe, great adrenaline rush.

Day 2
An early morning adventure on the tube resulted in us being 1 hour early for a meeting at the New Zealand high commission offices to discuss the ins and out of OECD (Organisation of Economic and Cooperative Development)

Carmel Cahill;Trade and Agricultural Directorate to OECD spent an engaging 2 hours detailing the history, principles and motives of the OECD.
34 member countries
Focus: to drive inter governmental improvement, across a range of briefs, for the member nations
How: by collaborating knowledge and sharing lessons on policy development across member nations, via working committees focused on interest sectors.

This body of nations has previously been seen as the developed world trying to 'mother' developing nations but the global power shift is occurring way from the traditional big two, EU & USA, to the BRIC group of countries: Brazil, Russia, India and China. The OECD work by measuring and understanding the primary economic drivers in nations, determining what level of subsidy exists and what impact that subsidy has on the global market. Once these are determined member states will debate strategies to influence and adjust nations they feel are overly subsidising their sectors.

The idea of 34 developed nations telling a collective of developing nations they can and can't provide subsidies, is pretty hypocritical, especially when the two most powerful nations have been subsidising their industries for years, but they try too. The OECD are proud they have lobbied the EU to de-couple the ag subsidies from production to land based/environmental levies and are now canvassing the BRIC group to do the same. Why should developing nations listen when nations such as the EU continue with supporting an uneven playing field.

Australia and New Zealand are small, but vocal, members of the OECD and have been lobbying hard for many years to free trade up, however somewhere in the translation of the policies 'free trade' has been redefined. Why are EU countries still paying a subsidy to their farmers, that provide an economic 'free kick' Australian and NZ farmers don't receive, yet preach to the developing world not to pay subsidies?

An interesting statistic debated around the room was the World Food Organisation (WFO) statement "world food prices have decreased every year since 2001" what will the global food market look like in 2025? who can tell.

Day 3
Ewan Rogerson, Director of Agriculture & Commodities WTO, chaired and convened a round table discussion in the World Trade Office, Geneva, on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), Doha trade negotiations and WTO food security beliefs. I was amazed at how quickly 5 hours could pass discussing what I previously thought was a dry, macro economic debate well beyond my means.

The skills of the negotiators articulating their nations position on agricultural policy and trade was amazing and the patience required to achieve consensus amongst 157 nations is enormous, which highlights the bitter disappointment when Doha failed in 2008. Australia plays a pivotal roll in moulding positions amongst the Cairns Group and the BRIC group of nations and firmly believes the removal of export subsidies and reduction in import tariffs will benefit the Australian economy.

After an exhausting round of trade negotiations and further debate on the recent WTO ruling allowing Kiwi apples into Oz, bugger, we needed some more education on the finer points of French living, wine.

After a quick 2 hour sight seeing drive through the Marigneu provence, we arrived at Eric Angelot winery Bugey-maison-angelot, where we balanced up the general group conversations from maize, corn, wheat etc to wine!!

Eric and his family run a small 28ha estate focussing on a range of wines from sparkling pinot and chardonnay, altesse and gamay. He commented on the challenges of the French wine market and how to deal with a per capita consumption rate decline of 40%, mind you the French still drink 17 litres/head vs Aust at 9.9lt/hd. It was a great 3 hours with Eric and via Michel (our host) we were able to give all the group a quick lesson in viticulture, very satisfying. Eric felt his greatest viticultural innovation during the past decade was the withdrawal of insecticides from his spray program, well done.

Day 4
This day was a very balanced day with a maize grower farm visit in the morning, a long lunch in Pergouge (1000 year old medieval village) and then a beer brewery tour and tasting, not sure how life will be once we return to Aust, possibly somewhat harder than now.

Daniel Martins farm was a great example of vertical integration of a business and seeing opportunities and grabbing these with both hands. Daniel and his son crop over 500 hectares of maize, some irrigated from the Rhone River, provide a contract harvesting service, seed drying and finally seed storage. Both Daniel and Jerome spoke passionately about their farms and achievements and frankly about the pro's and con's of the CAP.

Pergouge is a beautiful ancient village, that is quintessential France, we had wonderful food, plenty of wine, great conversations in French and English and then walked the ancient streets to appreciate the awe of France. A rare day to be remembered for ever.

Patrice Pobel, French Scholar, had the difficult job of pouring a few beers, taking us through his brewery, giving us some understanding of his business journey and then pouring another few beers. Whilst it may seem we were just eating and drinking the entire day, the conversations between the 7 French scholars and 8 Aust/NZ scholars were all extremely educational, and can be summed up with the phrase, "we were introduced to some French farmers today and leave France with some French friends, who happen to be farmers and will remain friends for a life time."

Day 5
Compost turner

Michel Privard, our host, walked us through his business and the trials and tribulations of his career. Being the eldest of 7 children and unfortunately losing his father at 16, Michel has had battle or two during his farming life. Today Michel and his twin brother farm 60 cows that are shedded all year and are milked by a robotic milking plant, they built a 6000tn green waste compost facility that receives all the green waste from a 40km radius, commingles with their dairy waste and produces about 1500tn of high analysis soil conditioner that they spread onto their pastures @25tn/ha. Wow what a closed loop and an amazing way to make money from other peoples waste. From a 350k euro investment, paid back in 6 years, they now have access to an increasing volume of soil conditioner that will make the grass grow.

Just to round out the opportunities he has recently installed and contracted a 20 year deal for solar generated power, enabling him to sell at 0.61 euro/kw whist paying only 0.07 euro/kw to run his dairy, payback 6 years. Well done.

All these opportunities can make a man hungry and thirsty, so Michel invited us to a little sunday brunch, struth we wont need to eat for a week. To Michel and Dominique, thank you so much for a wonderful day, I hope we can show you the same hospitality some time soon.

Day 6
Another day of examples of where people have just grabbed the opportunity, built a need, and are now starting to make some money. Christine Robin-Drouillet got fed up paying for sick slips and losing too many so she built a 300 sow farrowing shed. With a reduced mortality rate, she now needed more hog space, ok lets build a 2000 head grower shed. With all these pigs and effluent, there must be an opportunity for a digester (bio gas), 480k euro later and a contract to sell power for 0.18 euro/kw whilst buying it for 0.7 euro/kw, we have a new digester.

Fed up paying to much for processed stock food, support a contractor who can do it when you want it, how you want it and half the price of purchased stock feed, brilliant. This truck is capable of mixing upto 6 tonnes of stock with a range of ingredients you have on hand.

Brisse chicken, the only GI recognised chicken in the globe, has grown so rapidly that local villages needed to develop a farm store.

With the local department (council) support, finances and guidance 25 farmers now have a farm shop specialising in local produce, expected turnover in 12 months 1million euro. Just a great can do attitude!

We will miss France, the friends we have found, opportunities discovered, meals and wine consumed, weight gained!! and above all the broken conversations experienced between farmers, cooks, cleaners, chaps at the bar, politicians, bar man/women etc. This is just a great country to visit, merci becou.


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