With less than a month to go before France’s presidential campaign where the current president Emmanuel Macron, eyes for a second mandate, agriculture is perhaps the one sector that the candidate wants to shake up. Indeed, in recent campaign meetings and interviews, the president has emphasized his desire to transform current French farms into tech startups in addition to his France 2030 plan where 3Bn euros have been already invested to further its development.
Presently, startups such as Jungle, Naïo Technologies, AgriCool, Farm3, Sepec Consults or GreenPonik (amongst others) are leading the agricultural revolution in France but other foreign companies will be aiming at enhancing their presence in the market.
The Third Agriculture Revolution
During the International Agriculture Expo held in Paris during the last week of February, the president ensured that he aimed at bolstering the food security and sovereignty of France through the investment in Robotic, Numerical and Genetic solutions.
“We have experienced a revolution that has been mainly chemical over the last few decades, from which we are now emerging. We will not get out of it by going into decline, we will not get out of it by going back to 19th century agriculture which could not feed our population nor allow for solidarity actions. We will only get out of it through competitiveness, innovation and mobilisation,” he said.
Given the current global supply chain disruptions, the food price inflation and the ongoing trend of a decreasing/ ageing farming workforce (France has lost 100 000 farms during the 2010-2020 decade and more than 60% of current farmers are over 50), the president aims at modernizing farms exploitations in order to attract younger generations and ensuring a stable food production for the decades to come.
Nonetheless, it was met with concerns from environmental activists that see in such a program a desire to focus more on profitability and the economics of farming rather than the quality and sustainability of the food produced.
“Did you think that the future of agriculture lay in more quality, fewer pesticides and more farmers? For Emmanuel Macron, it’s all about robotics, genetics and digital technology, to turn our farms into tech start-ups,” ironized Maxime Combes, a French economist
Farmers, on the other hand, were concerned over the fact that the president would be turning farms into corporations with large investments, many highly-qualified employees and an emphasis on return on investment which is not in the logic of farming employment today.
A Revolution Driven By Vertical Farming?
There are many French startups that are changing the current farming sector in the country and in Europe. We see an increasing number of vertical farming solutions with companies such as Jungle leading the vertical farming market in France at the moment.
Indeed, the company was put in the spotlight after its impressive 42 million euro funding round back in 2021 of which more than €7m of the total funds raised came from Founders Future, Demeter Partners in addition to its existing investors – Alain Dinin (PDG Nexity), Christian de Labriffe (Tikehau, LVMH) and Serge Papin (ex- PDG Système U). That was supported by Atlante Gestion on the debt financing side.
However, as with most vertical farms, the company is limited in terms of crops grown focusing mainly on herbs and other aromatics even if it recently developed a partnership with cosmetic giant Firmenich. Together, leveraging both expertise they have created Muguet Firgood™ the first ingredient developed through this collaboration for the luxury perfume market, and the first-ever commercial extract safely obtained from the lily of the valley flower.
This limitation is attributable to most companies involved in the market, questions thus remain for the viability of vertical farming and whether the solution will complement current farming models. Another problem that can be highlighted is the gap in the laws in Europe relative to Indoor Farming as it cannot be considered as organically produced. Despite proven results, constant research and new initiatives to create a bioponic concept.
Questions Regarding The Financing Options Available For Farmers
On the concerns highlighted by farmers following the allocation of the French president, concerns remained regarding the financing options made available. Indeed, half of the current farming exploitations receive funding from government grants and other financial allowances and today, banks are reluctant to fund any projects in Farming so questions remain regarding how these finances will be made available for the farmer.
More importantly, many fear that funding may help them get the tools but will follow a stop of the current PAC which, as certain unions and other associations fear, may lead to the death of thousands of farmers.