Hectar, an agricultural campus and an agricultural business school: danger?

Posted on January 4, 2023


Some are worried about Hectar. Born of a curious partnership between Mrs. Audrey Bourolleau, former “agriculture” adviser to President Emmanuel Macron and businessman Xavier Niel, the project now involves the consulting firm McKinsey.

Hazard ? We can have another point of view.

Let’s dawdle to start

Emmanuel Rizzi is an organic breeder of Galloway suckler cows (black with a wide white belt) in the Jura and president of the Coordination Rurale du Jura. And a beautiful pen.

In his latest installment, Where is agriculture going? he mentioned the launch of the next Agricultural Orientation Law. During the first meeting, the Minister of Agriculture and Food Sovereignty, Marc Fesneau, concluded with this sentence: ” Agriculture must relate to society. But telling a story is not describing reality “.

And Mr. Emmanuel Rizzi agrees: “ Once again, we are preparing to silence reality to satisfy an opinion which fantasizes about pre-war agriculture and, having never known hunger, imagines that it will always have enough to eat. »

If we pride ourselves (still) on having efficient agriculture, the clouds are gathering on the horizon. In ” Bayrou’s uninhibited findings for French agriculture », To succeed wrote on July 11, 2021 in Chapô:

François Bayrou, the High Commissioner for Planning, presented a strategic note on French agriculture. According to this report, five crises are to be overcome: the decline in the active agricultural population, the decline in agri-food exports, changes in diets, adaptation to climate change and the sociological malaise of farmers. If the findings are known, the remedies remain to be found. »

For the strategic note, “Agriculture: Challenge of reconquest”, and its complements, it is here ; the last senatorial report drawn up by MM. Laurent Duplomb, Pierre Louault and Serge Mérillou is here.

The project acres

Some have found – or seem to have found – remedies. And not in the return to the pre-war period; they would be rather futuristic.

In Lévis-Saint-Nom in the Yvelines, on the Boissière estate of more than 600 hectares, there is a private higher education institution specializing in training for agricultural trades and farm recovery under the name of Hectar.

The estate had been purchased in December 2019 by Mrs. Audrey Bourolleau (wife Alberti) and Mr. Xavier Alberti. The first is known for having been an agriculture, fishing, forestry and rural development adviser in the cabinet of President Emmanuel Macron from September 2017 to July 2019. Previously, she had worked for the wine sector – according to the vocabulary used by detractors of this activity – as a lobbyist.

The school was created in the process by Ms. Audrey Bourolleau, who now manages it, and businessman Xavier Niel.

As soon as created, as soon as shot

It goes without saying that such a coupling caused some frowns. Mr Xavier Niel invests in meat substitutes and was one of the promoters of the referendum ofshared initiative on farming conditions which did not succeed.

But it is also the very principle of this school which is disputed by the Confédération Paysanne (obviously…) and the trade unions, the Snetap-FSU (National Union of Public Technical Agricultural Education being on the front line.

Note with a bit of amusement that according to Bastaacres“, Xavier Niel’s school project to deliver agriculture to new technologies “. The school benefits from the “direct support” of President Emmanuel Macron, who is beyond doubt ” since its director is none other than the former adviser on agricultural issues to Emmanuel Macron at the Élysée, and now again directly involved in his campaign for the 2022 presidential election “.

An equally conspiratorial link is established with the Île-de-France region, partner of the project and Mrs. Valérie Valérie Pécresse.

Resolutely turned towards the future… or maybe not

According to its website, Hectar wants to be ” creator of solutions for the agricultural transition – 100% oriented towards entrepreneurship and tech at the service of people […] a unique ecosystem in the world “.

The project is based on mostly obvious findings. The main ambition is in summary to train entrepreneurs capable of carrying out an agricultural activity that is economically viable (by developing the entrepreneurial spirit and the creation of value), socially just (allowing them to live from their profession and preserve the balance of life) and sustainable for the planet (by spreading the practices of ” regenerative agriculture “).

There, it is the irritating or amusing aspect according to the mood of the moment for Mr. Heitz and many others. Properly used, the term denotes relevant cultural practices that can be considered a development of conservation agriculture. But it serves a lot as marketing tool for greenwashing agri-food companies and even fake noses for organic farming.

In its initial communication, school was to be free. According to the current version of the site, it is paid. The dairy workshop was also presented in terms that leave you wondering – I made a ” Hectar, the school of new agriculture unveils its Marie-Antoinette farm on my blog. We may have already come up against the wall of reality at the Domaine de la Boissière…

The future will tell us if we can train entrepreneurs, in very varied fields of agricultural activity, in 115 hours over five weeks, and this without agricultural training other than the bobo-ecolo rattle of regenerative agriculture. And be a accelerator of start-ups ” efficient. With a stated objective of touching 2000 people per year (1,000 people trained in a trade and 1,000 others as part of awareness raising). But it seems that we are currently far from the mark.

Excerpt from the description of the “springboard” training course of five weeks at 2500 euros (source)

And here McKinsey

But now the consulting firm McKinsey installs on the Hectar site a tool described, perhaps in a limited way, as a ” regenerative farming simulator “.

To succeed offers a fairly detailed article, but one that leaves us wanting, “ How McKinsey intends to influence the evolution of French agriculture “. Extract :

Julien Revellat: Our agricultural demo center consists of an immersive workshop aimed at all players in the agri-food sector thinking about the agricultural transition and thecarbon footprint in particular, and which takes the form of a regenerative farming simulator. At the origin of this project, we had the ambition to help meet a challenge that concerns us all collectively: to develop a new type of agriculture that primarily benefits farmers and responds to environmental issues and consumer needs. »

Knowing the (bad) reputation acquired by McKinsey, and the lack of affection of the French for certain forms of economic activity, the title of To succeed has cause for concern.

Point published a vitriolic opinion by Mr. Jean-Paul Pelras, “ Should French agriculture leave the tractor keys to Niel and McKinsey? “. His conclusion:

The danger posed by this company of billionaires and advisers shouldn’t be underestimated. Because it sows neither the solution nor the progress. It gives rise to speculation in this dangerous furrow where the end of our agriculture is already programmed, despised, condemned. »

However, he notes in his argument:

Farmers did not wait for the advice of Niel and McKinsey to meet the food needs of our country with almost 27 million hectares in production and farming practices that respond, whatever the cost, to their adaptation coefficient. . But also, as soon as the repayment of the loans at the end of the month occurs, to their obligation of result. »

This is an observation that should encourage more optimism.

In a free enterprise economy…

Generally speaking, in a free-enterprise economy, nothing – apart from an overriding consideration of public interest or public order, which in this case does not exist – can thwart the projects of Hectar and its partners.

They can make a positive contribution if their programs and tools are well thought out. By increasing the training of farmers and future farmers and by opening their horizons; and also by documenting, through their teaching, their tools and the experience acquired by former students, what works and what does not.

Suppose the simulator is based on solid experience data, duly validated and analyzed. To succeed reports another statement by Mr. Julien Revellat, associate director of the Paris office of McKinsey, which coordinates the agriculture division in France:

Our ambition is to accelerate the environmental, social and economic transition of the agri-food sector. This acceleration implies extending the ambition of this transition and shortening its implementation time. All players in the food industry need to identify the choices to be made. To respond to this problem, the agricultural demo center is a place to raise awareness of the challenges of environmental transition in agriculture, which places the farmer at the center. »

A prioriit is more attractive than strategies such as ” from farm to starvation concocted by off-the-ground bureaucrats in political contexts, or the strategies of companies claiming to convert to “regenerative agriculture” – read: imposing constraints on their suppliers – in greenwashing contexts.

And if the goods are not good, the hard laws of economics will apply. It is also a much better prospect than, for example, these “trainings” in biodynamics – read: “esoteric agriculture” – provided by chambers of agriculture and training centers beyond all control (many links on the Internet!) .

Hectar et Cie must produce stories about agriculture. But also to contradict Mr. Marc Fesneau: stories that describe reality.

And even if…

And even if Hectar et Cie succumbs to well-meaning… it will only be one more voice in a great choir!

Thus, on December 14, 2022, the Climate Academy – a “thing” of the City of Paris with a staff of 45 people – organized an event, “Is French agriculture sustainable? What will the agricultural professions of tomorrow look like? What changes are needed for a living and resilient agriculture? “. With in particular “Francis Nappez: Co-director of Hectares (sic), Xavier Niel’s school of agriculture”.

Wikiagri did a brief report under the title : ” No farmers for “Imagine the agriculture of tomorrow” at the Climate Academy in Paris “. In summary :

” […] The floor was given to agricultural experts often disconnected from the economic realities and food issues of our country. The agricultural policies provided by some of them would endanger the food security of France and the European Union. »

Worse than that, there have been remarks that we will qualify diplomatically as utopian.

And it’s not better Germany.

We will leave it there. Let’s start the new year on a note of optimism.

With my best wishes to the readers of Counterpoints.

Hectar, an agricultural campus and an agricultural business school: danger?