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Relocate the supply of plants

The year 2020 has revealed three factors which, combined and reinforced by the health crisis, are calling into question production criteria and purchasing methods: a concentration of supply and demand on a European scale, declining production, and an expected change in the plant palette with long production cycles. Securing supplies is a real challenge today that concerns many industries: food processing, horticulture, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, etc.

We will see through this article how the plant industry has evolved during the last decades, either by political decisions or because of the various environmental, sanitary and political crises that have erupted, and what solutions are required to adapt and ensure its security.

PART 1 : Production in France


Since the early 2000s, France's agricultural power has been declining, highlighting certain vulnerabilities and dependencies. Indeed, France imports more and more foodstuffs.

The agricultural trade surplus is falling rapidly: 11.4 billion euros in 2011 compared to 5.5 billion euros in 2017. In 2005, France was the 3rd largest exporter in the world, it has dropped to 6th place in 2019.

In terms of imports, nearly one in two fruits or vegetables is imported (compared to 1/3 20 years ago). In total, France imports 20% of its food and 1/4 of the imported products do not meet the health standards imposed in France, particularly on pesticides (e.g. tea from China, pistachios from the United States).

World trade in agricultural and agri-food products doubled between 1995 and 2018, reaching $1.5 trillion in 2018.

Agriculture's contribution to the value added of the French economy is increasingly modest, dropping from more than 18% in the early 1950s to 1.8% in 2019 (4% if agri-food industries are added). Just over 400,000 farms dot France, more than half as many as at the end of the 1980s.

Agriculture continues to be an important sector of France's economy and influence.

Agricultural and agrifood products are indeed the third largest trade surplus for France, with +7.8 billion euros in 2019, behind the aerospace sector (+29.8 billion), chemicals, cosmetics and perfumes (+14.7 billion), and ahead of pharmaceutical products (+5.7 billion). Over the period from 2010 to 2020, the average annual agricultural and agri-food surplus is 8.4 billion euros. France remains Europe's leading primary producer (in plant and animal production) in value, with a total of €69 billion in 2019. The share of French agricultural production in European production (17% in 2019) is, however, down almost 1.5 points compared to 2010. France remains at the top of the rankings for crop production alone (€42 billion in 2019, or 18.5% of European production).

Since 2015, France has remained the sixth largest exporter in the world in these sectors. However, it has seen its global market share fall from almost 8% in 2000 (when it was the world's second largest exporter) to 4.7% in 2019. In the early 2010s, it fell from first to third place in the ranking of European exporters, dethroned by the Netherlands and Germany.

Exports of raw products reach 15.3 billion euros, while exports of processed products (including wines and spirits) reach 48.1 billion euros, and represent three quarters of total French agricultural and agri-food exports. France thus drops to 9th place in the world for exports of raw products (8th place in 2018), behind the United States, Brazil, the Netherlands, China, Spain, Canada, India and Mexico. In contrast, France remains in 4th place for processed exports, behind the United States, Germany and the Netherlands. In the mid-2000s, the market share of German agri-food exports in the euro zone exceeded that of French exports.

France's agricultural and agri-food trade surplus is primarily the result of exceptional surpluses in two product categories:

  • wines and spirits: with 15.7 billion euros in exports, or 18.5% of the world market, and a positive balance of 12.4 billion euros in 2019. France is the world's leading exporter in this category.

  • Cereals: with exports of €7.7 billion in 2019, representing a 6.7% share of the world market, and a surplus of €6.2 billion. France is the third largest exporter in the world, actively contributing to the food balance of certain regions of the world, such as North Africa (Morocco and Algeria will account for almost 20% of our exports in 2019)

Without spirits and cereals, France's agricultural and agri-food balance is becoming very negative (-11 billion euros in 2019).

The trade balance of the item "Seeds and plants", strategic inputs of agricultural production systems, is also positive, with almost 1 billion euros of surplus in 2019, as well as sugars, with half a billion euros of surplus in 2019.

Fig 1 : Scoreboard of export results for the agricultural and agri-food sectors in 2019. Source: FranceAgriMer / Data from the General Directorate of Customs and Excise

France's agricultural and agri-food imports account for a total of about 20% of the national food supply; they doubled between 2000 and 2019, rising from 28 to 56 billion euros, mainly from EU countries. Of the 26 million hectares used to feed the French, almost 10 million hectares are outside France. While some increases in imports are due to consumer preferences (for exotic fruits, for example), others are linked to a deterioration in the competitiveness of certain sectors, raising the question of France's strategic autonomy.

France's largest agricultural and agri-food trade deficits are in fruit and vegetables, seafood and organic products. France's fruit and vegetable imports have increased considerably due to the increase in demand for exotic fruits (avocados, mangoes, etc.), as well as for fruit juices, and due to the average decrease in the surface area of all French orchards of more than 12% compared to 2000 (-29% for apple trees, -34% for cherry trees, -52% for pear trees, -59% for nectarine trees) Fruits of which France was a major producer are also increasingly imported: melons (167 million euros of imports in 2019 and a deficit of 115 million) and peaches (84 million euros of imports in 2019 and a deficit of 66 million).

Fig 2 : French imports and exports of 5 basic fruits and vegetables. Source: General Directorate of Customs and Excise.

For tomatoes (fresh and processed), the French supply rate is only 37.4% in 2018 (70% of which are produced off the ground, (download our white paper to learn more); 80% of the tomatoes we import come from Morocco and Spain. For table grapes and oranges, this rate drops to 13 and 1.2% respectively. France exports a lot of apples and therefore has a positive balance. However, it imports more apple juice than it exports. The strawberry, although still in deficit, has been relaunched in France by focusing on a qualitative image of the product instead of focusing on cost competitiveness.

The origins of this agricultural decline are numerous: significant urbanization that extends over agricultural territories, high taxation of agricultural products, reinforced environmental standards, disappearance of farms, etc.


France is largely dependent on imports of a large number of agricultural products, for food but also for other goods widely consumed by the French, including wood and flowers.

The ornamental horticulture sector is composed of 4 specialized branches of activity, each with specific characteristics at all levels of the sector: cut flowers and foliage, potted and bedding plants, nursery plants and flower bulbs.

In 2017, the flower market in France generated about 1 billion euros. But this market is actually global, since 85% of the cut flowers that end up in our vases come from abroad (Colombia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Israel, Ecuador, China, etc.) and that in nine cases out of ten, they transited through the Netherlands, the hub of the horticulture business, which accounts for 60% of the global market. [8] In France, 9 out of 10 horticultural farms have disappeared in the space of 50 years.

Fig 3 : European cut flower imports. Source :

In France, the horticultural profession, with the support of the Ministry of Agriculture, is trying to get consumers to prefer national suppliers through :

  • the creation of a label "flowers of France", when more than 50% of the components of a bouquet has grown on the national territory. And also, the definition of a quality charter, the implementation of certifications (ex: blue plant);

  • national measures to support the horticultural sector since 2016 with regional variations and relays, particularly in the areas most concerned, such as the Loire Valley, Auvergne and Provence (e.g.: sector contract);

  • communication campaigns around the priority of short circuits and respect for the seasons.


Plants and flowers for the production of essential oils are numerous (lavender, eucalyptus, chamomile, geranium, citrus, mint, patchouli, etc.).

France is a major player in the global market, since in 2019 it was placed third in imports and exports in value. Notably specializing in the production of lavender essential oil, the French market shows increasing production levels and solid demand, with its 30,000 hectares of lavender and lavandin cultivation in 2020, up 7% from 2019. In the first half of 2021, France saw a 7.7% growth in essential oil manufacturing sales compared to 2020, showing that the dynamism of this market is there (encouraged in part by the COVID crisis).

However, lavender cultivation is increasingly threatened in France. Indeed, French lavender is competing with low labor cost countries such as Bulgaria (the world's largest producer of lavender since 2014, surpassing France) and China. It also has to face diseases such as dieback, which ravages hectares of production, the life expectancy of lavender plants having dropped from 20 years to 5 years.

Fig 4 : Lavandin on the left and true lavender on the right. Source: Futura Sciences

In France, a good part of the lavender crops have been replaced by lavandin crops. Lavandin is a hybrid species, a cross between two species of lavender (lavender finet and lavender aspic). Unlike lavender, lavandin is sterile and multiplies only by cuttings. Lavandin has gradually replaced lavender because it gives good yields and grows at lower altitudes. It is also less expensive and more abundant: 1 hectare of lavandin produces about 100kg of essential oil against 15kg for lavender. However, lavandin gives off a stronger and camphorated perfume, less subtle than the perfume of lavender.

Lavender and lavandin represent 10,000 direct jobs and 17,000 indirect jobs for a turnover of 50 million per year.

PART 2 : Transportation of goods

Food transportation is a critical link in plant supply chains. A study conducted by a team from the University of Sydney looked at food transportation. It shows that food transport is responsible for nearly 20% of CO2 emissions related to food and nearly 6% of total greenhouse gas emissions. That is to say more precisely 3.0 gigatons of CO2 equivalent.

Transport-related emissions depend on the type of food. For example, the global transportation of goods associated with the consumption of fruits and vegetables accounts for 36% of the emissions generated by food transportation. This is almost twice the amount of greenhouse gases released during their production because fruits and vegetables require temperature-controlled transport. Flour and cereals account for 20% of emissions, and dairy products for 12%.

Developed countries are responsible for half of the emissions from food transport. China, the United States, India and Russia are the main emitters of food transport.

The conclusion of this study is that in addition to favouring plant-based foods, it is becoming urgent to eat locally. If the world's population ate only local products, the reduction in emissions would amount to 0.38 gigatons.

Fig 5 : CO2 emissions from the transport and production of our food for fruit and vegetables and for meat. Source: Swissveg.

In comparison, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh also studied the ecological impact of food transportation. Their findings differ slightly. For them, the choice of food has a much greater impact than transportation. For example, locally produced meat is more harmful to the environment than imported fruits and vegetables. The study also points out that a large part of the greenhouse gas emissions caused by transport are generated during the journey from the store to the final consumer's home.

The choice of transport mode depends on various constraints, such as cost, distance to be covered and product characteristics. Transportation by road or rail is preferred on a national or continental scale. From one continent to another, foods with a limited shelf life, such as asparagus or mangoes, travel by air. Especially the inexpensive sea trade is growing, with specialized vessels such as refrigerated cargo ships or container ships. Whatever the chosen mode of transport, the journey of a foodstuff remains complex.

To evaluate the environmental impact of transport, the "food mile" calculates the amount of CO2 emitted to transport one ton of food over one kilometer. The boat is the means of transport that emits the least CO2 (15-30 g/t per km), followed by the train, the car, the truck, then the plane (570-1580 g/t per km).

Fig 6 : Environmental impact of a bouquet of flowers imported into France. Source : Fleurs d'ici.

PART 3 : Climate variations and the impact on plants

We have already mentioned this subject in 3 previous articles:

Things to remember:

  • Agriculture is strongly affected by drought. Indeed, the lack of water in the soil has an impact on crops. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, the drought has caused significant production losses, particularly in cereals, corn and hay, which have repercussions on the livestock sector. On a European scale, losses have tripled over the last 50 years, according to a study recently published in the journal Environmental Research Letters. A particularly striking and current example of the impact of drought on agriculture is the mustard shortage we experienced (and are still experiencing for a while) in 2022. It all started in 2017, when mustard seed cultivation in France was decreasing due to the cessation of certain pesticides, now banned in France, and leading to devastating insect attacks. Thus the production of mustard seeds dropped from 12,000 tons in 2017 to 4,000 tons in 2021. Canada then became the world's leading supplier of mustard seeds (supplying 80% in France, against 20% for the Burgundy production). However, the country was confronted in 2021 with a great drought, leading to a drastic decrease in its production and thus a worldwide shortage of mustard jars which particularly affected the French (and Dijon!) great mustard lovers. Following this crisis, the Burgundy region has decided to relocate its mustard seed production by more than doubling its production for 2023 with 10,000 ha. Burgundy should thus become the second largest producer of seeds, behind Canada, with 15,000 tons of seeds, i.e. 40% of mustard growers' needs. To fight against insect pests, studies conducted at Agrosup have led to the development of mustard plants that are resistant to insects that are harmful to production.

  • Nearly 3 plant species disappear every year. A study published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution mentions 571 plants that have disappeared since 1750, which is twice as many as all the birds, mammals and amphibians that have disappeared combined. The plants most affected by extinctions are trees, shrubs and other woody plants. 40% of plant species are threatened. Since 1900, it is estimated that 3 plant species disappear every year. The disappearance of plant species mainly concerns islands and tropical regions, which have a very rich biodiversity (the islands, which represent 5% of the world's land mass, are home to 17% of the planet's bird and plant species) but are also very vulnerable. These disappearances also affect agricultural plants, in fact, according to estimates by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 75% of the diversity of cultivated plants has disappeared in a century. Since the birth of agriculture there were no less than ten thousand cultivated plants, today only 150 species of plants feed the planet. We can take as an example the tomatoes, only 7 species have survived against about thirty in 1900. These are the consequences of an agricultural model that selects varieties more robust to climatic hazards, more aesthetically standardized and whose growth is the fastest

  • Climate change affects plants in different ways. The transformation of environments is reflected in the disappearance and appearance of certain species, also by the displacement of certain geographical areas. As the climate warms, ranges (the area that defines the geographic distribution of a species) are migrating to cooler areas. According to a study by Vigie Nature, the leaves and flowers of plants appear between 2.5 and 5 days earlier for each degree of temperature increase, impacting the plant industry (supply chain to be reworked). The increase in heat disturbs the metabolism of plants and favors the development of parasites. Forests are not spared, as droughts lead to water stress which benefits the development of parasites such as bark beetles. Insect pollination contributes to 9.5% of the world's food production, but some insects are very sensitive to environmental conditions, notably the bumblebee, which is one of the most important pollinators, and their decline leads to the decline of the plants they pollinate. Some species become more common over time while others disappear. For example, the Madrid Brome (Anisantha madritensis), is increasing and conversely the Alpine Gentian (Gentian alpina), is decreasing. The plants that are maintained and that easily colonize the spaces are those that have a higher thermal preference index, so they prefer the heat.

As we mentioned in the first part, lavender is a direct victim of climate change. Increases in temperature and periods of drought in the south of France are considerably reducing lavender production.

PART 4 : Food safety

The term "sugar" refers to all sugars in the broad sense, such as glucose syrup, fructose, etc. Sucrose, also called table sugar, is the sugar extracted from certain plants, mainly sugar cane and sugar beet.

Food security is composed of four dimensions:

  • access to food

  • availability (sufficient quantities)

  • quality (nutritional and sanitary)

  • stability of the other three dimensions over time. [7]

In Europe, in addition to the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, three bodies are involved in this area:

  • the Directorate General for Health and Food Safety

  • the Consumer, Health, Agriculture and Food Executive Agency (CHAFEA)

  • European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

For the period 2022-2031, the FAO strategy takes into account the need to transform the agri-food system based on 4 improvements:

  • production: innovation for sustainable production, access to resources for small producers

  • nutrition: promotion of nutritious and safe food for all, reduction of waste

  • the environment in the face of climate change by developing the bioeconomy and biodiversity

  • living conditions: economic growth reducing inequalities and rural transformation

What food security in the world?

  • 660 million people could be hungry by 2030

  • Moderate to severe food insecurity has increased since 2014: nearly one in three people did not have access to adequate food, nearly 12% of the world's population was severely food insecure in 2020.

More than nine out of ten children are stunted.

In an area of Southern Africa, 45 million people survive on food aid. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the number of chronically undernourished in Africa rose from 20.8% in 2015 to 22.7% in 2016, affecting 224 million people on the continent. In the refugee camps of Western Sahara, home to more than 173,000 people who fled the disputed territory 35 years ago, the situation is even more alarming: the malnutrition rate reaches 40% and affects mostly children, according to the Red Crescent.

In Japan and Singapore, where there is a lack of arable land (in Japan there is 12% of arable land and only 1.1% for Singapore), food imports are massive (Singapore imports 90% of its food). Recently, both countries have decided to invest in vertical agriculture (development of more than 400 vertical farms). Thanks to them, their respective governments hope to produce 30% of their food by 2030.

Food insecurity and malnutrition have worsened and the goal of "Zero Hunger" by 2030 will not be reached. This is due to the Covid-19 pandemic, conflicts, climate variability, extreme weather events, and economic downturns.

PART 5 : Global crises and the impact on plant imports

The agricultural sector is normally subject to many hazards, both in terms of production and continuity of supply (weather hazards, problems related to different supply routes and trade routes, price fluctuations, logistics chains...). This was beneficial during the health crisis. Thus, noting the resilience of the French food system, there would not be, according to many observers and experts, a problematic supply disruption for France, i.e., involving a basic food consumer product. [4]

France is dependent on energy (gas and oil) to ensure its agricultural production. These energies are used to operate agricultural machines, but France is also dependent on certain agricultural machines (imported from Asia), robots and software.

A supply crisis on one of these factors, which are often irreplaceable products, could be critical to ensure the continuity of production.

The war between Russia and Ukraine is causing a record increase in the price of food commodities (wheat, oil, soybeans, etc.) and energy, which has a significant impact on Europe, which imports these commodities. In addition, some African, Middle Eastern and Asian countries depend on Russian and Ukrainian wheat imports for more than 50% of their needs.

In this context, an agricultural and food resilience plan (France 2030) has been announced in France. In March 2022, the European Commission presented a plan to preserve food security.

In the event of a crisis affecting prices and supply, the EU has an emergency plan, provided for in the "From Farm to Fork" strategy. Implemented in 2021 in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, it provides for the coordination of the food chain on a European scale to avoid shortages: support for farmers, aid for private storage, derogation from competition rules, and greater flexibility in the CAP (e.g. extension of payment deadlines). [7]

On March 23, 2022, the European Commission announced exceptional measures to deal with the aftermath of the war in Ukraine, including to:

  • increase national production (mobilization of fallow land for all crops for human and animal consumption)

  • use the agricultural crisis reserve (500 million euros to help farmers in case of price instability)

  • activate the European Food Security Crisis Preparedness and Response Mechanism (EFSCM).

FAO has specific tools in case of food emergencies (conflict, natural disaster, epidemic) in particular: national security stocks, designation of bodies responsible for reserves and emergency food distribution.

In the context of the risks associated with the Ukrainian conflict, the FAO has issued the following recommendations:

  • keep global trade in food and fertilizers open

  • diversify food suppliers

  • avoid case-by-case responses (tariff reductions or export restrictions)

PART 6 : The solutions

Eat Local

Local fruits and vegetables in France:

Just as we favor local fruits and vegetables, we must also promote flowers that grow locally in France and therefore have less impact on the environment. The Slow Flower movement, born in the United States, allows us to reconnect with the cultivation of flowers in a sustainable and reasoned way, and thus to promote short circuits. In order to follow the seasonality of flowers in France, you can go to Fleurs de saison.

The development of urban agriculture has reduced the distances between production areas and consumption areas, while nearly 60% of the world's population lives in urban areas. We are talking about a production located more than 3000 km from the point of sale for open field cultivation against less than 100 km for urban agriculture. In general, urban agriculture (which can be under greenhouses or in the open air, see our white paper for more details) would allow to produce 100 to 180 million tons of food.

Greenhouse and climate controlled agriculture

Cultivation in heated greenhouses is more of an economic solution, to ensure the sovereignty of a country, than a real ecological solution. At least for the moment.

According to a 2007 English university study (Cranfield University), a rose from Kenya emits six times less CO2 - including air travel - than a rose from the Netherlands grown in a greenhouse heated with natural gas [12]. However, this report is no longer relevant as more and more greenhouses are being covered with solar panels, and using geothermal energy to reduce energy bills and optimize their energy needs. According to ADEME figures, greenhouses consume 9 kWh/kg of energy compared to 2 kWh/kg of energy for outdoor crops.

Currently, the vast majority (70%) of the 550,000 tons of French tomatoes are produced in soil-less culture; while half of the strawberries are now produced in soil-less culture.

In order to have even more control over the plants, and to allow a larger variety catalog, climate controlled farms have been developed, which are independent from the sun and the outside climate. These structures allow for year-round cultivation, and therefore a higher production than the open field or the greenhouse. The energy requirements can be higher than those of the open field. Like greenhouses, enclosed farms progressively optimize their energy needs and use mainly clean energy (nuclear and renewable versus fossil fuels for tractors).

When comparing water requirements, greenhouse or climate-controlled crops (often combined with soilless) save 70 to 98% of water compared to traditional agriculture.

Plant resistance

Farm3 worked on maritime pine and its resistance to water stress through epigenetics (without any genetic modification). The results of the experiment showed that the plants acclimatized in the Farm3 culture chambers had a survival rate of 80% to intense water stress, compared to 43% for conventional plants.

This experiment was then replicated on blackthorn, then on grapevine with a first large-scale study transplanted in the field.

This study provides solutions for plant adaptation in the face of climate change, especially the increasingly frequent drought.

Importation of new plant species

Beyond a natural rearrangement of plant species (those adapted to high temperatures are more abundant and settle in new territories), plant professionals import new species adapted to warmer climates.

It is a practice that is already beginning to develop in arboriculture.

In France, fir trees are mainly cultivated in the Morvan, Jura, Poitou and Burgundy.

The varieties of Christmas trees in France are :

  • Nordmann (73%): resistant, bushy

  • spruce (25%) : piney smell, loses its thorns

  • nobilis : nice bluish color

But in the face of global warming, growers are trying new varieties such as the Lasiocarpa from New Mexico, more resistant to heat.

Protection des agriculteurs

Beyond climatic bad weather, there is also a social origin to the decline in plant productivity in France. Indeed, as we have written several times during this article, there is a problem of progressive disappearance of the production surface as well as of the share of farmers in France.

Since 2000, there has been an average decrease of more than 12% in the total French orchard.

Fig 9 : Evolution of the number of farms between 1970 and 2020. Source: Ministry of Agriculture.

In 10 years, there has been a 21% decrease in the number of French farmers, mainly in the livestock sector. The number of French farms that have disappeared over the last ten years is now 100,000. However, the size of the farms is increasing and measures on average 69 hectares. This dynamic began in the 1970s. In 2019, more than half of all farmers are 50 years old or older and only 1% of farmers are under 25 years old. [13] To counteract this aging of the agricultural population, the government should initiate a policy encouraging the renewal of generations and the integration of women, who currently represent 27% of the employment share in agriculture. Finally, 9 out of 10 horticultural farms have disappeared in the space of 50 years.

Problems identified by farmers include:

  • A high level of environmental policy requirements, costly for producers. They are often poorly supported in environmental transitions (banning of certain products that are harmful to the environment without any alternative solution for the producer who will therefore have to face tougher competition)

  • Poor remuneration of farmers with difficult working conditions.

In order to boost production in France, a Senate report on the competitiveness of "Ferme France" proposes 24 recommendations to be implemented by 2028, including :

  • Supporting the agricultural and agri-food industries in the face of the energy crisis by considering these sectors as essential

  • make France a champion in environmental innovation

  • to commit to ensuring better compliance with minimum production standards within the European Union.

Go further

To learn more, watch our Plant Supply Conference that took place at SIA 2022. Four speakers presented their vision of the current plant supply and talked about their solutions. They were: Romain Schmitt, CEO and founder of Farm3; Louis Roland, COO of La Cité de l'Agriculture; Alexandre Asmodé, co-creator of Oiseau Bondissant; and Sami Yacoubi, co-founder and COO of Space Sense. The event was moderated by Philippe Perez, Marketing Director of Jolt Capital, and led by Lise Alalouf, Marketing Director of Farm3.


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