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France's fruit and vegetable harvest loses more ground

France is one of the most important fruit and vegetable producers in Europe but is loosing further ground to competition. In a 'message from abroad' by the Ministry of Economics & Business they give analysis and reasons for this decline, the main trends and the strengths which France still holds in this sector. They also look at the impact and what this could mean for Dutch horticulture.

The French agricultural area has decreased. For most vegetable and fruit varieties the production area is around the same. The only exception to this is the tomato, where there has been a slight increase. For the top three French exports, (tomato, lettuce and cauliflower) the largest exports are to Germany, UK and The Netherlands. The top 3 French fruit exports (apple, nectarine, apricot) are to Germany, UK and Belgium.

French import is growing quickly. Despite their own extensive production, France is a major importer of vegetables and fruit. The top 3 imported vegetables are (tomato, lettuce and melon) which are delivered from Spain, Morocco and Italy. The Dutch vegetable export to France consists of chicory, onion, cucumber, leek, carrot, garlic, asparagus and tomato. It appears the amount of imported Dutch tomato is relatively small. Spain and Morocco dominate the import market for tomato (during the winter period) and the Dutch position is equivalent to that of Belgium.

The top 3 imported fruit types (strawberry, grape, peach/nectarine) are from Spain, Morocco and Italy. The Dutch fruit export to France consists of: pear, apple and plum. Belgium trumps the Netherlands on the export of pears, as France is a very large importer and they also beat the Netherlands when it comes to apple export.

Excessive competitiveness
Generally, in the winter the south of France is below Spain, Morocco and Italy, and in the summer it is below the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. Not an optimistic picture. Nevertheless, for several different products France is an important player with produce such as cauliflower, shallots and lettuce. France loses across the board to competitors with the two products lettuce and tomato.
A study by 'France AgriMer' explained that lettuce production has fallen due to a shrink in acreage and the reduced production capability of South West France and the Roussillon region. Some of the reasons for this decline were production cost, (mainly labour) for each unit of product produced, combined with sharply increased competition in the winter (from Spain and Italy), and period in the summer (Germany). France still has a number of advantages in export markets with good market shares of the German and UK market and good brand awareness. The climatic conditions are very favourable for production and their position in the large domestic market is very strong (French customers prefer a French product).

In assessing the competitive strength of the French tomato with important competitors France ended in fifth place, according to the results from France AgriMer, after the Netherlands, Spain, Belgium and Italy. For the tomato, the high labour costs and low productivity were reasons for the loss of competitive strength. Little investment in modernisation of production facilities also played a role. Energy costsalso played a greater role for the greenhouse tomato. Nevertheless, the French tomato is still a good brand with a good market segment and is a strong domestic product, as French consumers prefer French produce.

Greenhouse cultivation falls behind
The acreage of greenhouse vegetable production was 1054hectare (2011), of which 87% was used for the production of tomato and 13% for cucumber. Over the periode 2007-2011 this area declined by 17% (210 hectare). The two main centres for greenhouses are Bretagne (428 hectare) and the Rhone delta (327hectare), with smaller concentrations in the Loire Valley (182 hectare), North East France (61 hectare) and South West France (57hectare). However, the area has fallen in all these centres except for Brittany. That which needs investment should be covered with an EU modernisation fund. Investment which is done should be used to make more efficient use of energy (solar panels, hot water storage). Brittany has begun modernisation of the greenhouses especially in the Rhone Valley, but there needs to be more diversity.

Opportunities for Dutch horticulture chains
Brittany does not follow the Netherlands in terms of production conditions. Production is organised and they know, for example, which brands to market (Prince of Brittany and Savéol). However, for the Netherlands, organisation is the chain, marketing and proximity to major consumer markets strengths. The decline in vegetable production in France offers expansion opportunities for The Netherlands where production potential stays important. Investments into vegetable seeds and young apple trees are also important, (modernisation program for orchards). But greenhouses are also modernised and especially in the South of France, there is a new dynamic with opportunities for Dutch suppliers.

Source: Messages from Abroad, Nico van Opstal, Agricultural Council Paris

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