The "Dillon Round" of multilateral trade negotiations. An agreement made soya seed and meal imports into Europe exempt from customs duty. This led to a tidal wave of American soya flooding the "Old World".
In June, an exceptional drought brought soya production to its knees in the USA. The government decreed an embargo on the export of soya seeds and meal, causing prices to rocket. In France, as in Europe as a whole, farmers became aware of their extreme dependency on American soya.
"For the Protein Plan to succeed, it meant a united sector. This is why the interbranches were set up."
Jean-Claude Sabin, Chairman of Sofiprotéol from 1983 to 2000
Grown for its oilseed, soya provides the second most-consumed edible oil in the world after palm oil. The protein-rich meal produced from the crushed seeds is also the main product used in animal feed. In the early 1950s, the USA established itself as the leading global producer and exported massively to Europe. After the 1973 embargo, Latin American countries, particularly Brazil, actively developed their products to reduce their dependency on North American soya.
An ambitious Protein Plan was launched in France under the leadership of a young farmer and unionist, Jean-Claude Sabin, backed by the public authorities. The aim was to create a genuine French vegetable proteins and oils sector. The Plan fostered the increased production of rapeseed, sunflowers, peas, flax and field beans. Research was carried out by INRA (national institute of agronomic research) to create new varieties of rapeseed.
Two interbranch organisations were created: UNIP (national interbranch union of protein-rich plants) in 1976, and ONIDOL (national interbranch organisation of oilseed and oil fruits) in 1978. These brought together professionals working in the production, marketing, processing and use of oilseed.
The collapse of the CNTA was a terrible blow for French oilseed producers, whose principal outlet suddenly disappeared.
Gérard Tubéry, Chairman of the French Federation of Oilseed and Protein Crop Producers since 2011
A seed brokerage firm founded in 1948, the CNTA (national syndicate of agricultural techniques) established itself as the industrial tool for France's newly-formed French oilseed sector. During the 1970s, it was one of the leading participants in the Protein Plan. It bought up oil mills and crushing factories in northern France and established itself in the sector, both upstream (seeds) and downstream (meal and unrefined oils). It became one of France's foremost industrial groups in the oilseed sector, on a par with Lesieur.
The CNTA began to experience serious problems. Badly affected by changes in international markets, the volatile performance of the industrial units it managed and a tragic accident at its new Bordeaux crushing factory, it finally went bankrupt in 1983. This caused chaos in a sector in which it had been the majority purchaser. The interbranches decided to create a financial fund to bail it out.
Shareholders connected with the regions
From its creation, Sofiprotéol's shareholders included numerous players from the farming sector, both oilseed producers and representatives of the interbranches. As Sofiprotéol's economic partners, they supplied the sector and were keen for it to be established nationwide. Sofiprotéol's connections with local resources and stakeholders meant that it could set up its processing units in the heart of the production basins, while the fact that the group's activities were non-locatable contributed to the long-term growth of the French economy.
11 May 1983: creation of Sofiprotéol
The new company was designed to be a financial player in the French plant oils and proteins sector, with a key role played by the interbranches.
A dynamic duo at the helm
Sofiprotéol was set up in Avenue George V, Paris, and had five employees in 1983. This small group was overseen by Jean-Claude Sabin and its general manager was Philippe Tillous-Borde, an agronomics engineer specialising in industrial investment. They ran the company together for nearly 20 years.
The project, masterminded by sector leaders and Jean-Claude Sabin, offered a viable solution that ensured the future of the oilseeds sector.
Henri Nallet, adviser to François Mitterrand for agricultural matters from 1981 to 1985 and Minister of Agriculture 1985-1986 and 1988-1990