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France to give a boost to horticultural sector and modernise its greenhouses

French vegetable producers want to give a boost to their sector, and to this end, they are betting on the development and modernization of their greenhouses, with investments totalling over 300 million Euro in the period from 2017 to 2020, as outlined in the White Paper 2017: "Maintaining and developing France's horticultural production."

"Vegetable Producers of France", the association that brings together most vegetable producers and all French productions, has prepared a White Paper, with details on the projects in which the sector is willing to invest in the next three years. In total, there are 135 projects involving 353.3 hectares of greenhouses, which would have an estimated cost of 314,680,000 Euro and generate a total of 1,681 jobs. The regions where most projects are planned are Pays de la Loire, with 48 involving 145.6 hectares, the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region, with 34 projects and 66 hectares, and Brittany, with 21 projects involving 35.2 hectares.

"Légumes de France" explains that the sector has already demonstrated its willingness to invest in its own growth, summarising the actions that have been carried out under the "P3A" program on "Modernization of greenhouses and equipment in the horticultural sector"; a program that has been partially funded by the French government between 2015 and March 2017. Under the P3A program, between March 2015 and February 2016, 117 projects were developed with an investment totalling 156.5 million Euro and € 21.9 million granted in aid.

Vegetable growers in France believe that a major investment is necessary in order to implement the new improvement programs in greenhouses, and that this will require a national support system and the possibility to combine this national support with regional aid from the EAFRD funds. They also explain that it is necessary to facilitate the setting up of new producers, as well as to improve the taxation system for horticultural companies in order to encourage investments.

The White Paper also proposes changes in two of the aspects that most affect the development of horticultural farms: crop protection and the labour component.

With regard to crop protection, it explains that EU legislation is restrictive on the use of plant protection products and active substances, and does not allow for an efficient management of crops which takes into account the specificities of each horticultural product. It considers that this situation results in French producers losing competitiveness. One of its proposals is to accelerate the mutual recognition between Member States as a more effective way of increasing the availability of plant protection products. Mutual recognition is a means of authorising plant protection products which entails that whenever a product is authorised in one Member State for a given use and under comparable agricultural practices, it may be automatically authorised in another Member State if the agricultural, plant health and environmental conditions are comparable.

Lastly, the White Paper analyses the "social component," with details on the differences in labour costs between France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Poland and Morocco, according to which the gross hourly wage in France is 9.76 euros, higher than in the rest of countries. The gross hourly wage is €8.60 in Germany, € 7.17 in Spain, € 6 in Italy, € 2.41 in Poland and € 0.60 in Morocco.

According to this analysis the cost of the employer per hour in France is 11.69 euros, while in Germany it is 8.60 euros, in Spain it is 8.24, in Italy it is 7.6, in Belgium it is 7.37, in Poland 2.91 and in Morocco 0.74.

As explained in the White Paper, these distortions of competition are detrimental to French producers and have had a direct impact on the decline in the cultivated area, which has fallen by 30% in the last 17 years, while in the same period it has grown by 30% in Germany and the Netherlands.

France is the EU's third largest fruit and vegetable producer, behind Italy and Spain. The horticultural sector has 31,000 production companies with more than 200,000 hectares which yield products with a great added value. The sector generates 200,000 direct jobs and has a turnover totalling 3.5 billion Euro, according to the White Paper.

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