"The Heather-Farm": From an Old Tradition to Sustainable Modern Agriculture in France

by Xavier Devaux (EURAF National Delegate for France, Chargé de mission Agriculture, Direction de l'Action Territoriale Pôle Développemen, France)

The Heather-Farm (GAEC de la Brande in French) is an estate in Limousin in Central France. According to old documents and pictures, after the clearing of large forest areas in the Middle Ages, there were not many trees in the hilly landscape of that region until the 18th century. About three hundred years ago, under the pressure of a growing population, farmers started planting trees and hedges around every plot of land in order to produce fodder for cattle and sheep, fruit (mainly apple, pear and chestnut), firewood and timber. They created a new landscape with many trees but almost no forest. Until the 1960’s, hedges and trees were regularly pruned by farmers who often had a hard life on small estates. In the last fifty years, agriculture in Limousin progressively specialized in extensive cattle-rearing.  Many trees were cut or uprooted and remaining hedges aren’t properly maintained. A high nature value landscape is disappearing.
Overview of the Heather-Farm

The Heather-Farm was founded in 1974. Hervé, who grew up there, his wife Céline and a fulltime worker farm 164 hectares to produce organic beef. They breed 84 Limousin cows. Cattle graze across hectares of grassland and get hay or silage from meadows which undergo an accurate management. Furthermore, Hervé and Céline grow 34 hectares of wheat, rye, spelt, triticale and peas to feed 80 bullocks every year. Unlike most cattle-breeders in Limousin, they don’t produce corn silage and don’t buy any food for their livestock. The Heather-Farm aims at food self-sufficiency in order to be competitive as a producer of high-quality beef.

Trees and hedges are meant to support self-sufficiency too. Hervé always thought that they belong to modern agriculture. They don’t just protect cattle from sun in summer, rain and chilly northern wind in winter. They improve yield. They provide firewood and wood chips which replace straw in stables. That’s the reason why Hervé and Céline keep 25 kilometer (15 miles) of hedges on their farm. Oak, hornbeam, ash and holly are part of a gorgeous landscape which they enjoy every day.

Some pictures of the Heather-Farm