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France Seeks to Wean Cows Off Soybeans as China Dominates Demand

11:35AM Dec 17, 2014

France will pay farmers to grow faba beans and other crops that can add protein to livestock rations as Europe’s largest beef producer seeks to cut its dependence on imported soybeans, where China’s rising demand threatens supply.

The government will allocate 49 million euros ($61 million) a year to pay a premium for sowing protein sources such as peas or sweet lupine, Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll said at a news conference in Paris today.

“We need to develop a plant-protein strategy for France,” Le Foll said. “The flow of protein feed to Asia is becoming greater and greater. For Europe, security of supply is not guaranteed in the long term.”

France grows about 60 percent of the protein crops eaten by its cows, pigs and poultry, importing the rest, while Europe is about 35 percent self-sufficient, according to the agriculture ministry. China gobbles up about 60 percent of global soybean exports, driving up prices, the ministry said.

The European Union will import 12.75 million metric tons of soybeans and 19.8 million tons of soybean meal in the year through September 2015, the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts. China may take 74 million tons of soybeans, or 66 percent of global imports, and 50,000 tons of meal, the data show.

“In time, the import flows originating from the Americas that now benefit Europe could be diverted to the advantage of Asia,” the ministry wrote.

Faba Beans
The government will pay growers 100 to 200 euros a hectare ($51-102/acre) for sowing protein crops such as beans and 100 to 150 euros for alfalfa, according to Le Foll’s presentation. The annual budget includes 35 million euros for peas, lupine and faba beans, 6 million euros for soybeans and 8 million euros for alfalfa, clover and similar crops.

The aid could boost the protein-crop area to 750,000 hectares (1.85 million acres) from about 278,000 hectares, according to the ministry. The plan runs until 2020, with the first payment available for crops planted by May 15, 2015.

Planting of faba beans, peas and lupine doubled to about 400,000 hectares in 2010 from a year earlier when a temporary aid measure was in place, according to Antoine Gautier, a feed analyst at Offre & Demande Agricole in Bourges, France.

“The area will probably increase,” Gautier said. “Also because the prices of grains and oilseeds are relatively low, particularly for rapeseed.”

The government plan will lower the cost of protein in feed for French livestock breeders, according to Gautier. Still, soybean growers in France have a hard time competing with U.S. farmers because they’re limited to non-biotech soybeans that produce lower yields, he said.

Protein Content
Soybeans have higher protein content than peas or faba beans, meaning France’s poultry and pig producers will continue to rely on imports to augment their feed rations, he said.

Using protein plants as cover crops can also increase productivity per hectare, for example as an additional crop in corn mono-culture, according to Le Foll. France is the EU’s biggest corn grower.

“We have a large potential in France because we have long seasons,” the minister said. “I don’t know if we’ll reach self-sufficiency, what I know is that we have to increase our autonomy.”

Le Foll announced a 10-year research program to boost protein-crop yields and select varieties. An additional 98 million euros is available to boost production of pulses for fodder by livestock breeders, mainly for cattle, according to the ministry.