At the forefront in Europe and worldwide
A major sector of the economy

1er producteur européen de lait de chèvre
1er producteur européen de lait de chèvre - Crédit : Revue La chèvre / Institut de l’Elevage

 Leading sector of the French economy

France counts 490,000 farm businesses which, at 32 million hectares, cover 53% of the French mainland. Agriculture – along with agrifood industry – is the leading sector of the French economy, with a turnover of €147 billion (2008), beating other sectors such as aerospace or the automobile industry.

The 146,000 km² of land (permanent pasture or fodder crops) devoted to cattle, sheep and goat farming accounts for half of all farmland in France.

Animal products, ⅔ of which is beef and milk, accounts for 36% of the nation’s output from farming, and the beef and dairy industries account for 38% of national agrifood industry turnover.

 Among the world leaders

French agriculture is an economy-leading sector not just in France but worldwide. For over 20 years, France has ranked among the world’s top 3 exporters of farming and agrifood products, with 2010 figures putting trade at a total value of €48 billion.

France is also continuing to consolidate its position among the world’s leading cattle farming producers.

France is the world’s second-biggest exporter of dairy products in terms of value traded (€4.7 billion in 2010), with cheeses leading the way (€2.6 billion). France ranks as the world’s fifth-biggest producer of cow’s milk, at close to 23.6 millions tonnes in 2010, behind far more vast countries like the USA, India or China.

France also ranks as the world’s second-biggest exporter of grazer calves (around 1.1 million animals per year) and the world’s seventh-largest producer of beef. Year after year, France holds onto its position as one of the world’s leading exporters of genetic stock for the cattle, sheep and goat farming sectors, with almost 2.8 million semen doses and 55,000 stud animals going out to the export market in 2010.

 Ranking first in the European Union

France is Europe’s biggest agricultural producer, contributing 19% of EU agricultural output. French farms average 55 ha of land, which is four-fold higher than the all-Europe average.

French livestock represents a dominant share of EU 27 animal production. At 19.6 million head of cattle (including 8 million cows), the French national herd alone – the biggest in EU 27 – accounts for almost a quarter of the entire all-Europe headcount.

More than just the biggest, this national herd is also the most diversified. Co-farming two specialized herds of very-large-format animals – one for dairy production, the other for beef production – is a specifically French development, as dairy herds dominate in most of the other livestock farming countries in Europe (Germany, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands).

At a total 11.3 million head of beef cattle (including 4.2 million cows), the French national beef-breed herd is the biggest in all EU 27, accounting for almost a quarter of the entire all-Europe headcount. France is the leading producer of beef and veal in the EU, at 1.5 million tonnes–carcass weight equivalent (tCWE) in 2010.

The productivity of French breeds has carried France to a position as third-biggest producer of sheepmeat in Europe, at 101,000 tCWE, despite the fact that the national count of 7.5 million head (including 5.7 million ewes) only ranks 5th in EU 27.

With a national dairy herd of 3.6 million dairy cows, France is the EU’s second-biggest producer of milk (22.8 million tonnes, or around 17% of all EU 27 output).

The productivity of its 1.6 million dairy ewes and 1.1 dairy goats has propelled France to a position as Europe’s leading producer of goat’s milk (512 million litres) and fourth-biggest producer of ewe’s milk (253 million litres). All product channels included, France ranks as Europe’s second-biggest producer of cheese, at 1.7 million tonnes annually.


Key figures

  • 49% of French farmland is devoted to cattle, sheep and goat farming
  • 200,000 cattle farmers
  • 63,000 sheep and/or goat farmers
  • 19.6 million head of cattle
  • 8.8 million head of sheep and goats
  • 1st agricultural producer
  • 1st national cattle herd
  • 1st producer of beef
  • 1st producer of goat’s milk
  • 2nd producer of cow’s milk
  • 2nd producer of cheese
  • 4th producer of ewe’s milk
  • 2nd exporter of weanlings
  • 4th exporter of dairy products (in value traded)
  • 7th producer of milk
  • 7th producer of beef meat
  • 2.8 million semen doses to the export market
  • 55,000 cattle, sheep and goat stud animals to the export market