More than one quarter of dairy farms in France closed down over the past ten years, with a further decline expected in the next decade, new insights from the French Ministry of Agriculture have revealed.

The ministry’s agricultural census, which is carried out every ten years, has shown that between 2010 and 2020, the number of farms in France decreased by 64,000, 13,000 of which were dairy farms.

According to the French livestock farming institute (IDELE), in 2020 there were approximately 3.6 million dairy cows and 736,000 heifers in France, this was 82% and 15% fewer than 2015 respectively.

This trend has been particularly prevalent in certain regions of the country including the Nouvelle-Aquitaine, where cattle numbers fell by 45% between 2000 and 2019, compared to a 19% decline nationally.

The number of producers in this region has also plummeted, from 8,700 in 2001 to 2,500 in 2019.

Furthermore, this trend is expected to continue as IDELE forecasts a further decrease of 441,000 dairy cows by 2030.

The European Milk Board (EMB) has called the national situation “particularly alarming”, and noted a pattern in the age dynamics of these farmers.

It stated that of French milk producers, 32% were over 50 years of age in 2010, compared to 48% now. This is even more concerning as the replacement rate for dairy farmers is only 45%.

Reason for decline

In their 2022 review, the EMB stated that recently published French national accounts confirmed that 2020 was a difficult year for dairy farmers as input, labour and maintenance costs all rose by 1.2%, 12.1% and 10.7% respectively.

In addition, farmers’ social security contributions also rose by 12% that year, while their net income fell by 6.8% to an average of €26,052.

The accounts showed that when the overall characteristics of dairy farms were analysed in 2020, it was observed that their self-financing capacity dropped by 3.7%, while their fixed assets increased by 2.6% and were funded by debt, also up by 3.1%.

These challenge were then exacerbated further by an upward trend in raw material costs throughout 2021, which has not been matched by an increase in farm-gate milk prices.