Fabien Perrot chose the life of an agricultural entrepreneur in 2018 when he took over his father's farm in Germainville, in the Eure-et-Loir. In 4 years, he has transformed the farm into a sustainable operation that is financially viable and employs 5 people full time. In an interview, he tells us about his entrepreneurial journey and gives us some advice on how to succeed in setting up his business.
What made you want to take over the family business 4 years ago?
This is a question with multiple answers! I was interested in agricultural entrepreneurship because it allows you to use your head and your hands, it's a varied job that is both manual and intellectual, with an alternation between the field and the administrative and economic aspects.
I was also attracted by the fact of managing my own business, it could also have been in another sector but I chose agriculture because there is a huge potential for development in different aspects. You start from the land but then you can do everything, from processing to trading, there are lots of possibilities!
There are also family parameters: I have been involved in agriculture since I was a child, and moving to the region allowed me to be closer to my family, in a region I know... it's not the first criterion but it's always a plus!
What changes have you implemented since you took over the farm?
The first change was to convert this farm from conventional field crops, without irrigation and without livestock - a fairly classic model in the region - into an organic mixed crop and livestock farm. So in terms of changes, there have been quite a few: the switch to organic farming, the installation of irrigation mainly to diversify the crop rotation, especially in field vegetables, the installation of Angus breeding and a small flock of sheep, the planting of hedges, the launch of direct sales and marketing in short circuits to local people and stores close to the farm such as Biocop... These are the projects we have carried out on the farm for the time being since 2018, and others will follow! They will shake up the cultivation system a little less, but we will go a little further in the marketing, we will try to condition the vegetables, to diversify the crop rotation a little more and especially to continue what has been set up and stabilize the system to have the opportunity to launch new ideas.
What makes your business model successful today?
The success of my agricultural project comes, in my opinion, from diversification: it allows me to have an insurance on the income, if something does not work as well it can be compensated by what works better according to the years. We can see this particularly well in the uncertain climates we are currently experiencing, with the different crises, it is not bad to have different productions to be able to compensate for the climatic uncertainty and to have different outlets: specialized stores, restaurants, local residents with farm sales, supermarkets...
What advice would you give to an entrepreneur who wants to set up a business?
You have to have time ahead of you and not want to go too fast, take the time to plan and despite all that be ready to have a lot of unexpected things. You can prepare everything you want, there are always things that don't happen as planned! If I had to compare my 2017 project with what I am doing now, it looks like it, but there are many things that had to be adapted: when there is an opportunity, you have to know how to seize it, when there is a crisis, you have to know how to deal with it, as for example with the explosion of energy costs that change the situation of the storage of vegetables. At the beginning, we were thinking of storing potatoes to deliver them to restaurants, but the price of energy has made us think again. We have to plan well but always keep a certain adaptability.
I would also say that you have to keep hobbies and activities outside of farming. Often farmers are passionate but you also have to know how to get out of your frame from time to time, to do things outside the farm, otherwise you can get locked in and lack analysis when you don't take the time to breathe and have some distance.
On the economic level, I would say that you have to anticipate everything, that is to say anticipate the bad times but also the periods when things are going well: the difference between two years can be important in agriculture, for example when you combine technical, climatic and economic problems... It can quickly go into the red and conversely, a year when everything is going well, when you are successful, you have to plan to be able to re-invest the money in the farm to develop new projects or to improve the existing ones. In any case, this requires qualities of adaptation and anticipation, with safety margins. In the same way, in view of climatic changes, the future is more and more uncertain and it is more and more difficult to fill in the 5-year forecasts within the framework of an installation: the price of fertilizers, the price of equipment, everything has increased, there have been increases of between 5 and 15% per year depending on the manufacturer for the last 2 or 3 years and this is not going to stop. It's difficult to anticipate and you have to be vigilant about any risk: avoid bad results, but when you have good results, you have to make sure that there is room for maneuver for the following years and make the farm sustainable.