“Elaborate statistics are not substitute
for meticulous experimentation.”
G.W. Snedecor

French Seed Market 2020


 The tremendous success of the seed and seedling sector is a true "French miracle": World’s first exporter and producer for more than 10 years… despite biotech regulations, environmental challenges , straw cereal yields stagnation, and the deregulation of farm-saved seeds!

Do you know how the French plant breeding industry takes up these challenges?

Plunge with me into the land of the Rooster, I’ll tell you more about those seed companies and their state-of-the-art R&D departments.

“ France remains the world leader in field crops export on top of USA and Netherlands ” GNIS 2018¹

Leading the world’s seed market

3rd seed exporters in value², 1st in quantities and 1st producer in Europe, France relies on an extremely dynamic breeding sector. 53 Franco-French plant breeding companies market hundreds of new varieties every year, supplying France and world markets.¹

The quality of products, the know-how of professionals, the very large number of species and the diversity of agro-climatic environments make the French seed sector a recognized and valorized origin worldwide³.

1/3 of the production area is dedicated to Cereals, mainly for the domestic market. Corn, Forages and Vegetables use less surface but are more valuable and almost half of the production is exported¹.

The European Union is by far the leading destination (71%) of French seeds and the best growth driver (+2.7% in 2018/2019). Within the EU, Germany is historically the leading customer, followed by Spain, Italy and the Netherlands.

It’s hard to forecast the impact of the COVID-19 crisis, but French seed exporters seem to face the situation:

Top 10 seed exporters in value²

“ [The COVID-19 crisis] leads to delays. But it's being resolved. In any case, we have no choice, these seeds must arrive in April. In May, it will be too late ” said Mr. Bourgarel, Limagrain’s CEO⁴

French seed market: structure and challenges

French seed market 2020 The French seed industry1

The French seed industry¹

The domestic demand is one of the strengths of the French seed market: 3rd in value after the USA and China, it’s worth $1,7 billion, about the same as exports.

Over the last 5 years, global turnover, production areas and trade balance have remained steady, but we can notice interesting evolutions¹:

- Global rise in Forage seed demand, notably leguminous which are sold 58% more, exported 35% more and imported 100% more¹.
- Oil crops use in France stays still, but exports have risen by 33% and imports by 44%¹.
- Vegetables: Internal demand grows at the slow rate of 25%, exports 29% and imports 42%¹.
- Great increase in organic seed production: +100%, notably +66% in the past 2 years¹.
In a nutshell, the French seed industry appears dynamic and competitive, but also highly challenged: The internal demand evolves constantly, and farmers buy more and more seeds from abroad. French seed companies must constantly reinvent themselves to propose innovative and performing varieties.

“ The French seed sector, often described as exemplary in its organization, has been built up since the 1950s based on two pillars: the attractiveness of its seed environment [...] and the efficiency of its varietal selection. ” PRISME 2018⁵

How France pampers research of its seed market?

 French seed market 2020 Rape trial by Terres Inovia

Rapeseed trial by Terres Inovia

Research is greatly supported by the state: France is the OECD country that spends the most in terms of indirect support to the research⁶ ; National technical institutes such as Terres Inovia and CTIFL promote the best varieties and practices for major crops; And public research is also very active: the National Institute INRAE is 3rd in world research on agriculture and its subsidiary seed institute Agri-Obtentions, develops innovative varieties. The latter has for instance registered all the 6 organic varieties of soft wheat since 2011⁷.

Strong networking is also a cornerstone of the French seed sector’s excellence. Two national associations, namely the GNIS¹ and the UFS⁴, plus many local clusters such as Innov'Alliance⁸, provide information and promote cooperation. European research collaborations⁹ also boost seed companies’ research, and get financed by the French government (more than 1M€ per year¹⁰).

“ [Collaborative projects like CASDAR] promote quality applied research, in partnership between public research organizations and private operators […] in order to propose plant varieties or species enabling tomorrow's agricultural and agri-food transitions.” French Ministry of Agriculture¹⁰

What makes French seed R&D so competitive?

 French seed market 2020 RAGT Seeds

One of RAGT 2n research station

In France, seed companies invest about 13% of their income in R&D⁶, and market 600 new varieties every year⁷. Have you noticed most international seed companies in the world have research stations in France? What a proof of the great attractiveness of France for seed research!

And there is more than favorable natural and economic environment: Innovation and scientific diligence are deeply rooted in French culture, a fertile ground for prestigious agronomy high schools such as AgroParisTech¹¹ or Supagro Montpellier¹² and a magnet for plant researchers from all over the world.

Within research departments, activities get more and more “professionalized” and organized. Digitalization has taken its time but it’s now a reality for French breeders and testers collecting data with rugged tablets, drones and IoT sensors. To secure and valorize vegetal R&D information, IT teams keep on modernizing to enhance performance, security and take up the challenges of big data and AI.

“ French biotechnology companies […] have developed indisputable and promising solutions (Carbios, DNA, N2I) building on the excellence of our academic and education, […] proving not only that "entrepreneur" is a word of French origin, but entrepreneurship is a new mindset. ” Kevin Camphius, Co-funder, Shakeup Factory¹³

The French Tech, supporting seed companies worldwide

 French seed market 2020 French Agri-Food Tech13

French Agri-Food Tech¹³

Alike plant research, the “French Tech” is well supported by public investments and shines by its innovations. Farms and research stations are already using much technology, but the Agri-tech revolution is in full swing. More than 250 start-ups work towards developing software, drones, robots, artificial intelligence and satellites for agriculture and agro-research.¹⁴. 

Made-in-France agronomy decision-making and plant breeding software also remain at the forefront of technology thanks to Doriane. Available on-premise and in SaaS, their applications keep innovating, for instance with the new web based VIZ tool for data visualization and comparative analysis.

“[With RnDExperience® research information system], Terres Inovia today disposes of an integrated data management system "from the field to the technical reference" allowing time and reliability gains.” Terres Inovia annual report¹⁵

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Note: This article is planned for publication in a seed professional newspaper. All printing rights reserved.


1- GNIS is the French Interprofessional Organization for Seeds and Plants link

2- International Seed Federation seed statistics link

3- UFS is the French seed association for seed companies & plant breeders link

4- La Montagne article on French seed companies facing the COVID-19 crisis link

5- PRISME June 2018 by Crédit Agricole: Analysis of the agricultural and agri-food trends and news link

6- Eurofound article on the French tax credit “Crédit d’impôt Recherche”, 2016 link

7- Focus on new French varieties by Les Echos, February 2020 link

8- Innov'Alliance (formerly Terralia-Pass) is a French competitiveness cluster notably for vegetal agriculture and food-processing link

9- European seed companies join their forces around plant breeding programs such as: AMAIZING, BREEDWHEAT, PeaMUST, RAPSODYN, SUNRISE,INNOLEA, LIVESEED and AKER

10- Example of French state investments in seed research with CASDAR project link

11- AgroParisTech, Paris Institute of Technology for Life, Food and Environmental Sciences link

12- Supagro Montpellier, the French national institute of higher education in agricultural sciences - South of France link

13- Ag Funder 2020 European Agri-food Tech Investment Report link

14- Agri-tech spreading like wildfire across French farms, EURACTIV, Feb 2020 link

15- Terres Inovia annual report 2017 link

Images sources:

- « The French seed industry » is a translation by Doriane of GNIS publication Les résultats du commerce extérieur de la France 2018/2019 ©Doriane, Gnis 2020

- « Rapeseed trial by Terres Inovia » ©TerresInovia

- « One of RAGT 2n research station » ©RAGT

- « French Agri-Food Tech » ©Agri-Funder

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