Vivescia, France’s largest grain cooperative and flour miller, is betting wheat grown with fewer inputs can sell at a premium and take 20 percent of the local food-wheat market, deputy managing director Franck Coste said.
The company has drawn up a charter for more sustainable wheat that’s less strict than regulation for organic crops, and is in talks with food makers about supply contracts, Coste said in an interview in Paris last week.
France uses about 5 million metric tons of wheat a year for food, data from crop office FranceAgriMer show. There’s a place for sustainable wheat between conventionally-grown wheat at 200 euros ($278) a ton and organic wheat at double the price, Coste said.
“There is a third way between conventional and organic,” Coste said. “The average man or woman is ready to pay for the farmer’s work. This can take 20 percent of the French market.”
Vivescia is marketing its more sustainable wheat under the Respect’in label, with specifications including a 10 percent reduction in green-house gases emissions and on-farm energy use, crop rotation requirements and lower pesticide use.
The website promoting Vivescia’s sustainable brand has had 2 million unique visitors, with as many as 300,000 visitors per month, according to Coste.
Farmers growing Respect’in wheat cut use of nitrogen fertilizer by an average 10 percent to 20 percent by using pulses in their rotation as well as cover crops such as mustard, according to Coste. The grain is handled separately and storage silos are not treated with insecticide, he said.
The switch to more sustainable methods “fundamentally” changes how farmers work, with more time spent to measure soil and monitor crop progress, the executive said. Rather than skiing in January, farmers will be checking fields, he said.
“The farmer has a little more work, that has to be remunerated,” Coste said. “For some it’s a radical change.”
Using more sustainable methods started out as an experiment by seven farmers in 2007 in response to yield stagnation and societal questions about farming, according to Coste. Of the 10,000 farmers that supply grain to Vivescia, 200 have now switched to the Respect’in charter, Coste said.
Vivescia’s farmers on average gathered 8.5 tons of soft wheat last year, while those using fewer inputs reaped 8.39 tons per hectare, according to Coste. Based on the small numbers of farmers, the gap is “not significant,” he said.
“We have no yield loss on average, with two harvests done,” Coste said.
Some brands of Vivescia’s milling unit NutriXo, which processes 1.3 million tons of wheat a year, will carry the Respect’in label, possibly by the end of the year, Coste said.
The company is finalizing talks with food makers about use of wheat produced under the Respect’in label, Coste said. Vivescia has 80,000 tons of wheat and barley in stock that was grown under the specifications last year and expects production of 150,000 tons this year, according to Coste.
Vivescia is France’s largest grain cooperative, gathering about 3.9 million tons of grain, mainly in Champagne-Ardenne as well as neighboring Picardie, Burgundy and Ile-de-France.
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