A Farmer’s Lot is not an ‘Appy One

Life on the average French farm is no easy ride, agitated, often lonely and in old-age frequently penurious, farmers are in the spotlight for many reasons, few of them good.


Life down on the farm is not a barrel of laughs

In a country with centuries of rural tradition and a food and wine heritage the envy of the world, the plight of rural folk is taken very seriously. Currently government is trying to placate dairy farmers angered by low prices from big industrial processors who turn their raw milk into cheeses, yoghurt and other profitable products.

According to Courrier Picard farmers have been converging on retail outlets such as Auchan, Leclerc and Intermarché for a “stickage” protest, labelling big dairy industry names with “unfair price” stickers to highlight their anger at the low returns they make on their milk – the argument is over a 20 euro gap between what they demand and what the big industrial processors (which claim the can get cheaper suppliers from Germany) will pay.

Others have taken an alternative route and are selling unpasteurised fresh full-cream milk direct to the public.

According to Le Parisien, a newly licensed business, the automated “milk shack”, has been gaining support from dairy farmers keen to sell fresh, often organic, milk direct to the consumer.


Raw milk producers are fighting back. Some now sell direct to consumers, seen here, bottles in hand, waiting their turn at a milk shack in Saint Renan (Finistère).

Jean-Marc Frasson, a Lot-et-Garonne farmer at Lagupie (47200), says his milk shack is doing very well selling an average of 100 litres a day. He installed his distribution point at the end of March in the parking lot of a Marmande shopping centre, and is now well above his break-even point of 55 litres of fresh milk sales a day. “The customers are happy and loyal, they even come on Sunday the supermarket’s closing day”, he said.

Prices from a milk shack vary around the country but average 1 euro a litre and the machines — refilled daily with milk stored at 3°C — also sell reusable glass bottles for customers.

Jean-Luc Raguenes, an organic farmer in Brest is a happy shacker. His distributor (which cost him 50,000 euros, 12,000 of which paid for from regional and local grants), sold 120 litres on its first Saturday in business.

But the shacks are not a runaway success and in some areas farmers have given up on them due to lack of support or too much time servicing the machine and explaining its benefit to the public.

Meanwhile down in the Dordogne, 2000 retired farmers, many in their 80s, held a slow march through Bergerac — birthplace of the legendary Cyrano de Bergerac — demanding better pensions. (Cyrano, large-nosed hero of the 1897 play by Edmund Rostand, fought alongside the original D’Artagnan — remember Alexander Dumas’ Three Musketeers? – and the farmers hold him up as the man who never shied away from adversity).

Roger Tréneule, president of the Dordogne retired farmers association said: “We demand equality of pensions with other social categories and parity of pensions between men and women — today the gap is too wide”.

He said the average monthly pension a retired farmer could expect was 720 euros, and this mainly for men. Women working with their husbands, do not contribute to the state pension scheme and are therefore not provided for, he said.

Backing the protest, the National Association of Retired French farmers (ANRAF), said support for the cause was widespread.

Senior Dordogne officials, several unions (FNSEA, Young Farmers, Farmers’ Confederation, Rural Coordination) and elected officials, including three Socialist Party deputies representing Dordogne – Pascal Deguilhems, Germinal Peiro and Colette Langlade all backed the protest. Further national trade union campaigns on pensions are scheduled for the rentrée on Sept. 7, when Parliament convenes to discuss a highly controversial pension reform seeking to raise the national retirement age to 62.

One pensioner on the Bergerac march, 82-year-old Denise Capdecomme from Mirande (32300) – in the Gers, Midi-Pyrénées, told La Dépêche: “We receive €500 monthly pension. My husband and I live in the countryside, where we can grow our own vegetables. Our worries are about heating gas. The cost is always rising. In winter we spend all our time in the kitchen, which is the warmest part of the house. Thankfully our children help us cutting wood and so on but we have never taken a holiday.”

If its tough for pensioners and dairy farmers, spare a thought for the estimated one million unmarried agriculteurs around the country for whom a special TV programme is trying to find wives. (If the figure is correct it must worry the authorities, for without heirs who will farm and feed France in the future?)

Since 2005 France’s M6 TV station has been on a mission – to help farmers find a partner. L’amour est dans le pré (Love lies in the meadow), is a show that features single farmers from all over France, in appearances that resemble a televised classified ad for a soul mate!


Finding farmers a wife on L’amour est dans le pré

FremantleMedia, which produces the show, now in its 5th year, says some 1 million farmers live alone in rural areas of the country.

In the latest edition, 12 single farmers joined the programme in a bid to find a partner. The producers however admit that after five seasons of broadcasts only two of all the farmers who have come on the show have successfully found a wife. One of the biggest problems they say is for the potential partner to adapt to the long hours, hard and isolated lifestyle and no holidays.

According to MidiNews citing Mutuelle Sociale Agricole almost 48% of farmers in the Ariege département are single. “Here, there is nothing except the mountains,” says Jean-Francois Denjean, a sheep farmer in Haute Ariege. “How do you attract a young woman to come and live here […] for her to go shopping she must go to Foix or to Pamiers”.

At 38, this sheep breeder told MidiNews he had no illusions: there is more work for young people in the valley, girls go to town to work and if they return, they are already married.”

Jean-Francois has always done this job and he would have no other. In winter, he rises early and spends his days at the barn feeding, lambing and in general husbandry, “there is no dead time”, he says. Aware of the harsh working conditions in the mountain areas, he no longer dreams of a wife but would still love a companion with whom he could share his passion for the mountains. As for popular TV programmes aiming to help farmers in search of love or Internet dating agencies, he turns up his nose. These “are intrusive and very far from reality” Happiness for him is what he finds every day in his meadows.

So how fare the dating sites for farmers and others in rural areas?
There are now several and among the most popular is one set up by farmers themselves. AtraversChamp.com claims it can help “ Find your soul mate and enjoy meetings with people from rural areas and those interested in country life”. AtraversChamp.com was initially launched at the annual Salon de l’Agriculture in Paris .

Another dating site Vachement.fr launched in 2007, was created by a farmer’s son who had complained to friends that he couldn’t find a wife. It wasn’t clear from the report whether the site — which currently claims 3991 members — helped its founder!

Story: Ken Pottinger

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