Next Gen get insight into access to land and agricultural education opportunities in France

What do you learn in agricultural school in France? How do young people with no background in agriculture get access to land? What are the partnerships that help to share innovation in agricultural practice with farmers?

These were some of the questions posed and lessons learned by a group of young farmers from Scotland during a recent ‘Cross Visit’ to Normandy, France, as part of the EU-funded NEFERTITI project. The Scottish delegation included members of the NFUS Next Generation Committee and the SAYFC Agri-Affairs Committee, accompanied by Annie McKee and Tami Wooldridge, social researchers at the James Hutton Institute, a partner in the NEFERTITI project.

The NEFERTITI project (‘Networking European Farms to Enhance Cross Fertilisation and Innovation Uptake Through Demonstration’) aims to facilitate and support on-farm demonstrations, peer-to-peer learning and innovation uptake within the agricultural industry across Europe (see: In Scotland, the focus has been on supporting new entrants to agriculture and encouraging young people to consider farming careers. The ‘Cross Visit’ seeks to allow the cross-fertilisation of ideas and network building across Europe.

The Scottish delegation joined NEFERTITI project participants from Ireland, Germany, and France in Caen, Normandy, from 28 June – 1 July. The international group visited the Saint-Lô Thère agricultural school, including a tour of the dairy and pig units by the farm manager, and a cheese and apple juice tasting, all produced and processed within the agricultural school. The school provides a range of courses in agriculture, agricultural science, and food processing, up to degree level. The group were amazed by the number of agricultural schools (and high student rolls) across France, the diversity of training available, and routes to different careers.

Access to land remains a key barrier for new entrants in France, especially where young people are not from a family farm. This was a key challenge to Thibaut Giraud, a new entrant farmer who set up a beef farm close to Saint-Lô in 2018. Through building contacts within the young farmers club, Thibaut was able to approach a landowner and convince them to sell him an initial 8ha, through demonstrating a strong business plan. Thibaut bought the land price at €5000/ha, but it is now worth about €8500. Whilst this is considered affordable in comparison to parts of Scotland and Germany, the increasing price remains a barrier to aspiring new entrants in France. Thibaut now owns 12ha and rents an additional 68ha. Today he has 35 Charolais cows and 20 ha of arable crops, with 60 percent of his meat sold directly to local customers. What shocked the Scottish group was Thibaut’s personal experience of losing farming friends to suicide, reinforcing the need for good networks in agriculture, especially for young people.

The theme of networks and partnerships was central to the Normandy Cross Visit. The Caen-based ‘start-up village’ supported agricultural entrepreneurs and new entrants to set up new businesses and on-farm innovations. The experimental farm ‘La Blanche Maison’ works closely with partners to test research findings within a commercial farm, and to share lessons with the farming community, welcoming over 1000 visitors per year.

The group also visited the busy ‘Tech&Bio’ fair where they learned from stallholders about support for new entrants in France, the impact of climate change on agriculture, and issues relating to health and safety. The final group discussion considered the merits and disadvantages of knowledge exchange during the different events and farm tours in which they had participated – from the straightforward and realistic ‘farmyard talk’ by Thibaut to the sophisticated presentation with videos at the agricultural school. Some key take-home messages for the Scottish group included the strong agricultural education system and ‘step-wise’ approach to entering agriculture in France, access to support for business start-ups, as well as the value that French society place on the agricultural sector, and their relationship with local food.

A key advantage of the Cross Visit was the informal conversations with the participants from other countries, and ongoing connections. The Scottish group were very grateful to our host, Pierre Cordel from the Normandy Chamber of Agriculture for all his efforts in organising a packed NEFERTITI Cross-Visit.

Matthew Steel, Next Gen Chair on being in France: “The trip with NEFERTITI was an insightful experience into how other countries are encouraging young people into the agricultural industry. Whilst there are large differences between Scottish Agriculture and French Agriculture there was one glaringly obvious similarity - the need for agriculture to be pushed as a serious vocation at high school level and for it to feature more heavily on the curriculum.”

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