I’m calling tomorrow. Short circuit promises a long future

Yuna Chiffoleau is a short circuit specialist and director of research in sociology at the National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (INRAE).

Yuna Chiffoleau is a short circuit specialist and director of research in sociology at the National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (INRAE).

Yuna Chiffoleau is a short circuit specialist and director of research in sociology at the National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (INRAE).

In the saturated naming market, how is “short circuit” defined?

“It is true that the consumer has something to lose in all these naming of modes of production and consumption. The definition of short circuit made by the Ministry of Agriculture in 2009 is simple: It is a form of sale between the producer and the consumer with a single intermediary at most. Exceptionally, two agents may be required when the conversion requires a complex process. It is clear that in the short circuit there is a concept of proximity, traceability, transparency that makes it possible to quickly connect to the raw material. »

Mileage required?

“No, we are deliberately quite flexible with this idea, because it is relative between different regions of France. In a large metropolis, the distance can be 250 kilometers! Before the city dweller finds a farmer in the countryside or the grower comes to the neighborhood market, the distance is much greater than in rural areas where the farm could be right next to your house. The same goes for the processor network: sometimes you have to go far beyond the production zone to process the raw material. Let’s say the short-circuit distance is national and regional. »

Not being prescriptive about distance also means avoiding artificial cultures…

“If a short-circuit were connected to a given kilometer, we would risk developing an agriculture where technology would take precedence over the seasonality of, for example, fruits and vegetables. Then we would see farms producing against the rhythm of nature and the climate of their region. Instead of staying close to nature, we would switch to the unnatural.”

What are the anchor points of short circuits?

“We can have the simple image of the only consumer going to the farm to collect his weekly basket. But the short circuit also passes through the markets, the shops of the relevant producers, the online ordering platforms, the Peasant Agricultural Protection Associations (AMAP). We also see that supermarkets are starting to offer local products backed by photos of local farmers. We see there that major distribution is also willing to bet on the idea with a lot of marketing…”

How many farmers have chosen this form of sale?

“A quarter of the 400,000 farms in France are now fully or partially short-circuited. For 40%, this allows them to generate more than 15% of their turnover. For 30% this represents less than 10%. Within this niche are particularly active regions such as Corsica, the Southeast region or overseas departments. »

How did the Covid-19 health crisis accelerate the success of the short circuit?

“During the first quarantine, we faced demand ten times the supply. Some manufacturers even rationed their products! Of course, also with traffic restrictions, we were invited to find food not far from home. At home, while working from home, we had more time to cook fresh produce, which is good for staying healthy. Solidarity with the manufacturers was also a lever. And above all, there was a need for strong reassurance about what we were eating. Food safety was a driving force: knowing where the product came from rather than imagining it had passed 15,000 hands. »

Has the short circuit lost customers since the slowdown in the epidemic?

“Yes, but this is not a dissatisfaction with principle, it is primarily a question of economic conditions. Manufacturers say that despite the decline, they have gained customers between 5% and 30% compared to pre-crisis. Declining purchasing power, uncertainties due to rising raw material prices and the unstable environment of the war in Ukraine We are experiencing a slowdown… As we know, food also functions as a variable comfort. A bleak environment can favor ultra-processed products full of sugar and fat. Hence a decline in staples currently purchased from supermarkets and a greater reduction in quality products offered by short circuits. We are witnessing a great stalemate.”

But these “short” products rise less than others…

“Yes, because the costs of operations in the short-circuit niche are less dependent on an increase in fuel or input prices. For example, for agriculture in conventional production, tonne of fertilizer went from 200 to 1,000 € per ton. Inevitably, this will be passed on to the client at some point. Even though those who deal with agro-ecology will not need to raise their prices too much because they have few trips and less chemicals to buy…”