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Agriculture in France: From the wheat in Beauce to the Limousine of the Massif Central

Agriculture in France: From the wheat in Beauce to the Limousine of the Massif Central

Published on March 19, 2012
Tags: agriculture
Since the 1950s, French agriculture has had to face new challenges. Before World War II, farms were small and agriculture represented 35% of the French active population and the priority was self-sufficiency. Today, thanks to an interventionist agricultural policy and the creation of a new economic market, agriculture has undergone major changes.
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Source: French Ministry of Agriculture - Pascal Xicluna

Today, it employs 3.5% of the French active population. The land consolidation and the reorganization of the agriculture led to a fall in the number of farms. Today, the average size of the farms is much larger than 60 years ago (around 55 hectares).

Today, there are 490,000 farms in metropolitan France and 24,800 in the overseas regions. This represents a Utilized Agricultural Area of nearly 30 million hectares, that is to say still more than half of French territory. This Utilized Agricultural Area is divided in 3 major crops: 63% of cropland (cereal and forage crops mainly), 34% of areas under grass and 3% of perennial crops, vineyards and orchards.

The arable lands in France are located on both sides of the 45th parallel north and are under a mild climate, which allows a large diversity of production. Thanks to its climate, soils, and overseas departments and territories, France is the only European country able to produce almost all agricultural goods. The different regions of France are specialized in one type of production:

Large basins, like the Paris Basin or the Aquitaine Basin in southwest of France, are more specialized in field crops with large farms, mostly associated with industries to convert commodities.

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Source: Graphicobsession

Animal breeding is mainly located in the west and in the center parts of France and in mountain areas. The Massif Central is specialized in meat production, especially with the breeding of the famous French cattle breeds, the Limousine and the Aubrac. Pig and Poultry farming is developed in Brittany (mostly industrial husbandry), north of France and in the southwest.

The specialty crops are spread all over France, particularly located in tight spaces, like valleys of Rhône, of Loire or of Garonne. Vineyards are located throughout much of France, except in the northwest and north of France, on east facing slopes, in some valleys and also in the south area.

Northern France is characterized by large grain farms. Dairy, pork, poultry, and apple production is concentrated in the western region. Beef production is located in central France, while the production of corn, fruits, vegetables, and wine ranges from central to southern France.

France is the first agricultural power in the European Union. With an agricultural production of 61 billion euros in 2009, it produces 19% of European agricultural goods and has the largest agricultural area.


Crop production accounted, in 2009, for 36.4 billion euros, that is to say 61% of the French agricultural gross product. Grains and wines are half of this value.


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Source: French Ministry of Agriculture

Among crops, the most important part of UUA is devoted to grains, with mainly wheat, barley, corn and oats. The total grain harvest was 62 million tons in 2010. The area devoted to grains is 13 million hectares, including 9.5 million for cereals.

In 2009, oil crops represent 2.23 million hectares. Two-thirds of those were dedicated to rape seed (for 5.4 million tons) and one-third to sunflower seed (1.6 million tons). Area devoted to oil crops had been growing thanks to the development of biofuel.

Fruits In 2010, production of fruits reached 3.5 million tons. Apple is the most grown fruit.


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Source: French Ministry of Agriculture

All cultivated areas (field crops, market gardening and greenhouse) represented 265,000 hectares in 2010. French production of vegetables reached 5.9 million tons in 2010, making France the third producer of the European Union.

Vineyards The 2011 harvest is estimated at around 50.2 million hectoliters, including 23.3 million of wine appellation, 14.5 million of wines with a protected geographical indication, 4 million in other wines and 8.4 million for other spirits. More than one-third of French production is sold abroad.


France is one of the most important producers of meat in the European Union: it is the first producer of beef and poultry, the third in lamb and the fourth in pork. In 2009, animal production accounted for 38.6% of the French agricultural gross product, that is to say 22.9 billion of euros mostly thanks to the dairy industry (7.4 billion euros) and the beef cattle industry (5.9 billion euros).

Cattle breeding France is one of the most important European countries for cattle breeding thanks to its wetlands (Normandy) and its mountains. In 2007, France had a livestock of 18.6 million heads. It is the first beef meat producer in the UE with 1.75 million tons. With a production of 23,556 million liters in 2009 of cow’s milk, France is the second largest producer in the EU, behind Germany. Cheese made from cowmilk represents 92% of French cheese: 3.85 million pounds was produced in 2007 and more than 1,000 varieties of cheese exist in France.

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Source: French Ministry of Agriculture - Pascal Xicluna

France is world-famous for animal breeds. Since the 1960s, French breeds have assumed more and more importance. Selected breeding animals are exported in a lot of countries. In dairy, France is the cradle of specific breeds such as Normande, Montbéliarde, Brune, Abondance, Tarentaise, Pie rouge des plaines, and many more! The Charolaise, Salers or Limousine are very famous beef meat breeds. Most of the time, the breeds from the mountains spend the summer at pasture while the livestock raised in the west of France spend a part of the year in grasslands.

French regions with an old cheese tradition, link to products of ‘terroir’ try to keep a large number of dairy breeds, each one linked to a specific French cheese. Today, France maintains a large diversity of breeds.

Sheep breeding In 2009, there were 7.5 million sheep in France, one-quarter of them dedicated to the production of milk and the other three-quarters to the production of meat. France is the 4th producer in the EU with 5.2 million head slaughtered in 2009.

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Source: French Ministry of Agriculture

The French sheep breeding is located in some specific regions: central France and the southeast.

57 official French sheep breeds are recognized by decree from July 2007. Some of them are classified in ‘local breeds’ or in ‘breeds with small population’. A breed is considered local when a specific link between a territory and the breed exist.

Goat breeding In 2009, the French goat herd represented more than 1.3 million heads. The cradle of this breeding is the Mediterranean area but the livestock is now principally concentrated in the west central France. It is a traditionally extensive breeding.

In 2009, 481 million liters of goat milk were delivered to the milk industry. The deliveries of producers of Poitou-Charentes – Central west of France - represent 52% of national deliveries. However, in 2009, only 820,000 of heads were slaughtered.

Pig breeding In 2009 the pig livestock was 13.9 million heads of pork in 23,000 farms. In 2007, France produced 2.3 million tons of meat making the country the third producer in the EU.

In the past, many breeds of pork used to exist in France but diversity has decreased in favor of the breeds with more suitable characteristics for consumers’ requirements. Besides the classic breeds, well-represented throughout Europe, six breeds, like the Basque or the Gascon in southwest of France, named as rustic or local, continue to exist as former regional French breeds. As they are endangered, genetic programs are committed to save them.

Poultry farming In 2007, the French poultry sector represented 262 million heads of poultry concentrated in more than 28,000 farms.

In 2008, France produced 1.9 million tons of poultry meat; it is the first producer of poultry among European countries. Three-quarters of this meat is chicken, followed by turkey and duck. In 2008, 874,000 tons of eggs and 72,000 of rabbits were produced.

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Source: French Ministry of Agriculture

To learn more: http://agreste.gouv.fr

You might also be interested in these articles:
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- The Art of Great Meat (Video)
- The Hidden World of Parisian Wines (Video)

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