At the crack of dawn, Hollande opened the week-long farming spectacle with a traditional cow-patting some three hours before the event opened to the public at 10am.
The event, which draws around 700,000 people from across the country and 4,000 animals, is an important gathering for the country’s agricultural centre and gives the capital’s politicians an opportunity to reach out to its rural voting bases.
This year’s fair has a special focus. With Paris set to host a major UN climate conference in December, special attention is being given to ecological agriculture.
However, some French unions have reported a rise in factory farming, which critics say detracts from this year’s focus and long-term sustainability goals.
The Confederation Paysanne (Farmer's Confederation), a small agricultural union, released a map on Thursday showing 29 soon to open or operational industrial farms, which could pack in thousands of animals at a time.
The union, which supports “diversified agriculture”, said the recent increase in industrial farming – some of which receive public money – illustrates the French government’s disregard of both small farmers and sustainable agriculture.
However, French minister of agriculture Stéphane le Foll recently said that industrial farms were necessary to provide accessible food.
Proponents of organic and industrial agricultural are likely to spark intense debate during this week’s fair, as will agriculture’s role in climate change.
In France, the agricultural sector accounts for 21% of greenhouse gas emissions, of which 42% from livestock and 58% from the use of nitrogen fertilizer.
Yet, France is making strides in enacting “green” policies and promoting agroecology, including a new bill recently passed that is known as the “future of agriculture, food and forestry,” which is centred on promoting efficient and sustainable agriculture.