A reunion in the shade of the cannons: President Emmanuel Macron, monopolized by the Russian invasion in Ukraine, inaugurates the Agricultural Show on Saturday but will not stroll through the aisles as usual.
Overjoyed by this 58th edition after a blank year due to the pandemic, the agricultural world was firmly waiting for a presidential candidate and an attentive ear, for ten or twelve hours, to the major challenges of tomorrow’s agriculture: more hands, less carbon emissions and balanced food that respects people, animals and nature.
The show, still threatened a few weeks ago by the health crisis, will finally be inaugurated by a president who is not yet a candidate who will confine himself, according to the Elysée, to “speak before agricultural organizations and representatives of sectors”.
Emmanuel Macron should then go to greet Neige, the muse cow of the event, who took up residence Thursday evening in the exhibition center at Porte de Versailles. Then Prime Minister Jean Castex will take over to go around the show, and defend the results of the five-year term six weeks before the ballot.
As the fighting intensified around Kiev, the Elysée had stressed that it was important that Emmanuel Macron come despite everything to inaugurate the event to testify to the president’s “commitment” to farmers and by “republican tradition”.
The France farm is waiting to know “what the future candidate will propose as a vision of agriculture”, indicated to AFP the president of the show Jean-Luc Poulain, even if he knows that it will be fast “given the context outside”.
Among the declared candidates and according to a program still in flux, are expected the communist Fabien Roussel, the LR Valérie Pécresse, the socialist Anne Hidalgo on Monday, the RN candidate Marine Le Pen on Wednesday and her far-right rival Eric Zemmour at the end of the week. The rebellious Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who criticizes the “productivist” agriculture represented according to him at the show, once again shuns the event.
“It’s a special show because there are presidential elections” and “because we are in a crisis of vocation”: “We lose roughly 100,000 farmers every ten years and it is good that there is a debate on the vision of the profession”, underlines Mr. Poulain.
– Fear of Russian retaliation –
This fundamental concern, which questions the French agricultural model, is joined by the more immediate threat of conflict in Ukraine: food professionals fear Russian retaliatory measures in response to Western sanctions, which would disrupt trade.
France is Russia’s ninth largest supplier of agri-food products, for 780 million euros per year, underlines the French association of agro-industry Ania.
Several large groups are established in Ukraine, particularly in the dairy, cereals and seeds sectors. Lactalis, which will have a stand at the show, has three production sites in the former socialist republic.
“In the event of a risk in the areas where factories are located, we will ask for production to be stopped and the early return of employees to their homes,” explains the dairy giant.
The surge in energy prices (including the gas used to make fertilizers), cereals and vegetable oils will also have repercussions at the national level. Livestock sectors are very dependent on cereals to feed animals, especially poultry and pigs. Their production costs had already jumped in 2021 (+30% for wheat), without sales prices changing at the same pace.
Another cause for tension: the show coincides with the end, on March 1, of difficult trade negotiations between agro-industrialists and supermarkets which determine the price of products on the shelves during the year and, ultimately, the income of farmers. .
For visitors – there were 630,000 in 2019 – it will undoubtedly be the joy of a visit to the farm: no poultry due to avian flu, but force cows, pigs, sheep or rabbits, to devour with their eyes by tasting local products, provided you remain masked while strolling.