This was the year of multilateral trade negotiations, the “Dillon Round”. An agreement removed the duties on imports into Europe of soybean grain and meals. This triggered a "tidal wave" of American soybean across the Old Continent.
In June, an exceptional drought brought US soybean production to its knees. The American government decreed an embargo on the export of soybean grain and meals, causing prices to rocket. In France, and throughout Europe, farmers became aware of their extreme dependence on soybean imports from North and South America.
"For the Protein Plan to succeed, it was necessary for the sector to be united. That was the raison d’être of the interprofessional organizations” Jean-Claude Sabin, President of Sofiprotéol from 1983 to 2000.
Grown for its oilseed grain, soybean is the second most widely consumed edible oil in the world, after palm oil. Rich in protein, the oilseed meals that result from crushing its grain are also the main product used to feed farmed livestock. In the early 1950s, the USA established itself as the leading global producer and exported massive quantities to Europe. Following the 1973 embargo, countries in South America (and notably Brazil) made active efforts to increase their production in order to reduce their dependence on North American soybean.
An ambitious Protein Plan was launched in France under the leadership of a young agricultural union leader, Jean-Claude Sabin, with support from the government. The aim was to set up a genuine vegetable oils and proteins sector in France. The Plan encouraged increases in the production of rapeseed, sunflower, pea, linseed and field bean. Research was initiated by the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) to create new rapeseed varieties.
Two interprofessional organizations were created; the French Interprofessional Union for Protein-rich Plants (UNIP) in 1976, and the French Interprofessional Organization for Oilseeds and Oils Fruits (ONIDOL) in 1978. Their members included professionals working in the production, marketing, processing and use of oilseed grain.
"The collapse of the CNTA was a terrible blow for French oilseed producers, whose principal market suddenly disappeared." Gérard Tubéry, Chairman of the French Federation of Oilseed and Protein Crop Producers (FOP) since 2011
Set up as a grain brokerage firm in 1948, the CNTA (National Centre for Agricultural Techniques) established itself as the industrial tool for France’s newly-formed oilseeds and proteins sector. During the 1970s, it was a key participant in the Protein Plan. It acquired oil mills and grain crushing units in northern France and became involved both upstream (seeds) and downstream (production of oilseed meals and unrefined oils) in the sector. Alongside Lesieur, it became one of the leading industrial groups in France in the oilseed sector.
The CNTA started to experience serious problems. Severely affected by international market changes, it had to deal with the irregular performance of its industrial units and a tragic accident at its new crushing plant in Bordeaux. It finally filed for bankruptcy in 1983, causing chaos in a sector where it had absorbed most oilseed production. The interprofessional organizations therefore decided to create a financial fund to rectify the situation.
Shareholders with strong regional roots
From its creation, Sofiprotéol’s shareholders included numerous actors from the farming world, both oilseed producers and representatives of interprofessional organizations. As Sofiprotéol’s economic partners, they were suppliers for the sector and keen for it to become established nationwide. Because of its local resources and actors, Sofiprotéol therefore set up its processing units in the heart of production areas. Non-transferrable, the Group’s activities thus participated in the sustainable growth of the French economy.
11 May 1983: creation of Sofiprotéol
The new company was designed to be a financial actor in the French vegetable oils and proteins sector, with interprofessional organizations playing a key role.
A dynamic duo at the helm
When in 1983 it opened its offices in Avenue George V in Paris, Sofiprotéol counted five employees. This small team was led by Jean-Claude Sabin, with its general management being entrusted to Philippe Tillous-Borde, an agricultural engineer specialized in industrial investment. They would subsequently run the company together for nearly twenty years.
"The project driven by managers in the sector and by Jean-Claude Sabin was able to offer a viable solution that could assure the future of the oilseeds sector."
Henri Nallet, advisor to President François Mitterrand on agricultural issues between 1981 and 1985, and Minister of Agriculture in 1985-1986 and 1988-1990.
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