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FRANCE. From Settlement to Transmission. How to redirect the settlement policy?

Summary of an article distributed to the members of the Confédération paysanne in 2007. Translation: Mary Rodeghier

Written by: Paul Bonhommeau

Writing date:

Organizations: Association pour contribuer à l’Amélioration de la Gouvernance de la Terre, de l’Eau et des Ressources naturelles (AGTER)

Type of document: Work document

Documents of reference

Bonhommeau, Paul. De l’installation à la transmission. Quelles réorientations de la politique d’installation ? Mai 2007.


Document prepared for the “Soil Management and Land Policies” workshop of the China-Europe Forum. AGTER. October 2007. Paris.

With French agriculture having undergone over fifty years of intense modernisation, entry into the farming profession does not occur on the same terms as it did in the early 1960s at the inception of the policy for assisting young farmers to establish themselves and settle in (“settlement policy”). This policy is an essential instrument of the structures policy, which, to be precise, aims to improve farm sizes and structures within a family farming framework. Today, it is not only the maintenance of the settlement policy that is desirable, but also a redefinition of its purpose and the adoption of fair and effective measures that promote the transmission between transferors and new comers;

In the wake of World War II, everything needed to be reconstructed, the food security of the French and European populations needed to be guaranteed, and thus French agriculture needed to be modernised as quickly as possible. Having chosen to rely on young farmers passionate about progress and social equality, the French State drew up a settlement policy, which, in giving subsidies for the purchase of the means of production, encouraged young, settled farmers to incur debts in order to break from the totality of traditional farming and commercial methods that their parents had practiced. The farm modernisation policy – the settlement policy as part of it—can thus be regarded as a project of creative destruction, like a silent revolution, carried out by the sons and daughters of peasants.

This policy achieved its goals very rapidly and very thoroughly: the average farm size increased yet remained mainly family-based; French agriculture quickly became more powerful as the country exported more than it imported as early as the late seventies.

Yet, today the settlement policy is under serious criticism:

  • The proportion of assisted settlements has been decreasing since the early 1980s and amounts to barely 1/3 of the total settlements in 2005; in addition, more than half of the land freed up by retirees ends up going to the enlargement of existing farms, more often than not to the enlargement of the largest among them,

  • The continuation of family farming is no longer guaranteed by the sons and daughters of today’s active farmers. The “non-family” settlements, which have been on the rise for a little over ten years, remain too insignificant; they are rather poorly integrated into the unions and organisations and above all, the proposed assistance devices are not designed to compensate their specific handicaps as compared to cases when a family resumes its farming activity,

  • Lastly, settlement policies continue to privilege intensive production methods and farms’ capital intensity; they do not take into account society’s new expectations for agriculture and rural spaces: product quality, environmental concerns, social and economic local development, …

The profound changes experienced by the French agricultural sector must likewise be taken into account: the sizeable demographic regression (barely 3% of the active population); as well as the fact that the rural exodus is no longer a social or economic risk factor; the inclusion of farmers in urban lifestyles and consumption patterns (to be a farmer is no longer a state of being but a career chosen among others, . . .); the great diversity in production methods and systems given that there is no longer a singular modernisation model being promoted.

Above all, however, whatever their size or production system, the substance of the majority of farms has profoundly changed as a result of their involvement in commercial trade: they have gone from “farming the land” to “farming-as-economic-activity” made up of fixed assets (equipment, facilities, livestock holdings, …) and intangible assets (production rights, rights to assistance, contracts, clientele, …). Now comes the question about the transmission of these farms, meaning the meeting of two wills with conflicting interests, that of the transferor and that of the new comer: a situation that was not foreseen in the 1960s apart from yielding land, by inheritance in the event of ownership or by lease transfer where tenant farming was concerned; the lessor having been obliged to allow this sort of transfer by the 1947 tenant farming law.

The settlement policy is at a crossroads. If its purpose and means are left as they were when the policy was adopted almost fifty years ago, it risks losing its legitimacy and, moreover, privileging in turn what it had been designed to stave off (that is, large farms, businesses that employ several workers and yield their holdings by means of allotting shares or stocks…)

In order to maintain the family farming model in a lasting way in assuring more and more diversity, it is necessary to redirect the structures policy and to intervene in the following areas:

  • Redirect assistance for farmers to set themselves up in such a way that is favourable to multifunctional farming systems (product quality, environmental concerns, value added, …) and in favour of so-called “non-family” candidates in order to at least partially compensate them for the indirect “advantages” that families reap when they continue the farming profession (such as family solidarity, differed salaries, …)

  • ƒ Allow the farm to be transferred in its entirety from transferor to new comer in such a way as to privilege the economic value of the instrument rather than its speculative value. This proposition likewise presumes that the tenant farming statute be revised (lease transfer in favour of “non-family” candidates). To this end, the recent farming orientation law (January 2006) created the concept of « fonds agricole » (the equivalent of the « fonds de commerce » (the business as a whole, including know-how, clientele, social capital, … and not only physical capital), and a transferable lease that overrides the type of lease provided for in the tenant farming statute, yet the lease’s means go against the law’s stated objective,

  • ƒ Direct the land policies (structures controls, SAFERs’ rural real estate market interventions…,) toward the same goals