Access To Land

Structures’ Policy in France

Controlling the right to access farmland

In France, the right to access farmland is restricted. One cannot set up – or expand – as one wants. Next to the SAFER’s control over land sales, France regulates the right to farm available agricultural land. To be granted the right to farm agricultural land (be it up for sale or rent) or just to extend one’s own farm over a certain limit, an authorisation to farm is needed. This control over farm structures aims to ensure farms are neither to big nor too small according to the model set in the 1960s of a modern farm operating on human level and keeping its family trait.

When does one need to ask for an authorisation?

The control over farm structures is regulated by the Rural Code (Art L 331-1 and after), which specifies when and how an authorisation can be delivered. All set up activities, expansion operations and farm mergers are regulated by this structures policy. Projects are reviewed according to a list of criteria, leading to one of these two procedures :

  • If all criteria are met, the operation is free to go, it does not need to be submitted to further control. The farmer can set up or extend his/ her land without any other formalities.
  • If one or several criteria is/are missing, the operation is submitted to the Region’s prefect who can either give authorisation or refuse it. The prefects found their decisions, on the advisory opinion of the Commission for the Orientation of Agriculture (CDOA), which exist at department level (i.e. county level).

If the authorisation is not granted, a lease will, by law, be null.

The County Commission for the Orientation of Agriculture

The Commission includes delegates of the State, of local authorities and of the agricultural sector (Chamber of agriculture, farmers’ unions, etc.) as well as representatives of other activities linked to agriculture such as banks, or independent experts. Also represented are organisations coming from civil society.
The Commission reviews the applications according to regional orientations determined in a regional framework for farm structures (called SDREA) specifying:

  • Guidelines for regional agricultural production (in terms of sector and practices)
  • Rankings to select candidates when several applications are submitted for renting or buying the same piece of land
  • Thresholds for minimum land surface (according to the produce) and maximum distance between the plots and farm main buildings

What are the conditions to be granted an authorisation to farm?

An authorisation will be granted if the following criteria are satisfied.

Personal criteria:
• Professional competence: farming diploma or sufficient professional experience;
• Prevalence of the farming activity: if the candidate has several economic activities, the revenue obtained by the non agricultural operations must be below the limit set by the regional framework (SDREA);
• Legal persons: at least one of the members of the company must be a farmer and be directly involved in the work on the farm.

Real criteria:
• The farming area is below the limit set by the regional framework (SDREA) – Otherwise, an authorisation is needed.
• The distance between the farm main facilities and the plots is below the threshold set by the regional framework (SDREA).
• Farming the land will not affect neighbouring farm’s financial viability (by suppressing or lowering their farmland area under the minimum size set by the regional framework)
• Farming this plot does not deprive another farm of an important farm building or facility.

A policy to reinforce and renew

The modernisation trend in the agricultural sector to expand, intensify and mechanise brought the CDOA to progressively increase the “minimum thresholds” to set up a farm and the “maximum limit” on farm consolidations and farm mergers. Furthermore, via the CDOA, the agricultural profession influences the directions and priorities set for agricultural projects (what is a viable farm?) and the upcoming generation of farmers’ profile (who is competent?). Hence, in some cases, it will block some candidates who are considered to be not qualified (age, diploma, number of associates, experience, too many other economic activities) or block some agricultural projects which are not deemed viable or desirable.

The regulation of farmland land sales is intrinsically connected with the control over farm structures. While the SAFER intervenes on transfers of ownership, the control over farm deals with transfers of the right to use farmland, i.e. the right to farm.

Further reading

 Michel Merlet and Robert Levesque, The SAFERs, an original land market regulation mechanism that is operated by the State and farmers’ organisations in France, aGter, 2008
 Gwenaëlle Mertz, La régulation de la taille des exploitations agricoles : « le contrôle des structures », aGter, 2010