France pledges extra EU subsidies to revive livestock farms

* More subsidies to livestock farmers, less to crop growers

* Shift in aid to amount to near one billion euros

By Elizabeth Pineau and Sybille de La Hamaide

COURNON D’AUVERGNE, France, Oct 2 (Reuters) - France will shift almost one billion euros of mainly European Union subsidies towards livestock farmers struggling with low incomes and away from better-off crop growers, President Francois Hollande said on Wednesday.

Hollande unveiled how France, the EU’s top agricultural producer and main beneficiary of EU farm aid, will implement a new European farm policy agreed earlier this year, a process that has exposed tensions between livestock and grain sectors.

The French government has promised to use a renegotiation of the EU’s Common Agriculture Policy to favour livestock farmers, although rejigging the bloc’s complex farm payments has proved a headache.

“My first priority is livestock farming,” Hollande said at a livestock show in central France, where he was met with jeers and heckled repeatedly.

“To let breeders in the situation they are in today, with lower income than the rest of the profession, higher risks, heavy constraints, is to weaken French agriculture as a whole,” he said.

Hollande said France would use measures including a subsidy bonus on the first 52 hectares of each farm, seen favouring smaller livestock farms over crop farms spread over wider areas.


In addition, France would use an option given to EU countries to increase the share of subsidies tied to a type of production, rather than per hectare, to direct more money towards livestock farming, as well as aid for specific sectors such as mountain livestock farmers, Hollande said.

“This will represent nearly one billion euros ($1.4 billion)each year to be redirected on this objective with significant effects on the income of our breeders,” Hollande said.

He did not detail how much precisely would come from the 9 billion euros in annual EU farm aid per year it will receive in the 2014-2020 period.

But to ease the transition for grain growers who would lose some aid, France will reduce disparities in basic subsidies by 70 percent by the end of the period, rather than the total convergence allowed by the EU.

The government will also allocate to the small-farm bonus, less money than the maximum authorised under the EU reform.

Crop growers have attacked the government’s proposed reweighting of farm aid, saying it assumed permanent high grain prices whereas they were vulnerable to market downturns and faced tough competition to export grain.