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No other nation handles agricultural events with quite the same aplomb as the French, writes Agro Mavens founder Adrian Bell, after visiting a Breton show that sits at the heart of French livestock production.
SPACE – the annual livestock extravaganza that takes place in Rennes every September, showcasing European livestock production – suggests there is no exception to that rule. More than 100,000 visitors came flocking to this year’s spectacle, complemented by 1,400 exhibitors and 560 cattle. Oh, and the Minister for Agriculture is more-or-less on a three-line whip to attend – no last-minute will-he-or-won’t-he expectations here.
Now in its 33rd year, SPACE could never be described as half-hearted. Brittany’s flagship agricultural event confirms the region’s unshakeable reliance on farming and livestock production in particular: agricultural employment, nearly twice the French national average of 2.3 per cent, accounts for nearly a third of jobs in some areas.
One in three French chickens is produced in Brittany; nearly two-thirds of French pork; one-fifth of vegetable production and one-quarter of French butter. This is a locale where food truly matters: more than 10 per cent of Breton farmers belong to Protected Food Name schemes, selling their produce under PDO, PGI or TSG labels. It’s hardly surprising that no burger stalls exist amongst the show’s food offering; instead, visitors take their pick from traditional French cuisine, including mussels, raclette and of course the obligatory three-course-with-wine, sit-down bistro-style dejeuner.
Naturally, it’s a fitting showcase for French agriculture, recently named by The Economist as the ‘most sustainable model worldwide’. That sobriquet was much in evidence this year, with the show scheduled just days after the G7 summit and only a few weeks after the publication of the IPCC report. Climate change, and the effect upon it of animal agriculture, topped the agenda. A whole section of the exhibition – Espace for the Future – was dedicated to a wide range of pragmatic and financially viable solutions for greenhouse gas reduction, energy production and energy-efficient systems for livestock buildings.
Exhibitors comprise familiar names from international animal health, machinery and nutrition, but also the cream of the domestic French agricultural industry. Companies here use SPACE as a launch venue for new developments in livestock production, encouraged by the organisers’ INNOV’Space Awards – designed to identify and reward products that offer new functionalities and benefits to livestock farmers or sectors.
From the 135 applications submitted to INNOV’Space this year, comprising a diverse set of products for dairy, poultry, pig, feed and machinery, 46 were judged with special merit. One of this year’s stand-out recipients was the Eye-Breed, from French firm AXCE. Simple yet effective, it’s an insemination tool for dairy cattle that uses an in-built camera to beam an image direct to a smartphone, helping the operator to visualise insemination in real time. Improving cow welfare and speeding up operator training, French dairy farmers are already using it – and the developer’s looking for a UK distributor.
For an agricultural journalist, however, what marks out SPACE is the organisers’ support and provision for the press. Around 380 journalists attend the event: three-quarters of them French, the balance drawn from 35 countries.
Travel on a speedy TGV between Paris and Rennes, hotel accommodation, food vouchers, comfortable press facilities and a lively press dinner afford journalists time and space to pursue stories and put the show’s importance into context. It’s a tremendous opportunity to uncover fresh thinking and new ideas, to understand animal agriculture through a different lens and to share that with a diverse readership outside France. Not forgetting, of course, the chance to meet a whole scoop of international journalists writing for markets as diverse as China, sub-Saharan Africa and South America – albeit the press corps is far outranked by the show’s 14,000 visitors from 122 countries.
For anyone involved with livestock production in Europe, or even from around the world, SPACE is an untrammelled opportunity. I’d heartily recommend a visit in 2020.
SPACE 2020 takes place at the Rennes Exhibition Centre, 15-18 September. Adrian Bell travelled as a guest of SPACE and in his capacity as a board member of the European Network of Agricultural Journalists.