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By Johnny Cotton
Plesse, France Feb 27 France's presidential
pretenders will this week make mandatory campaign stops at the
annual Paris farm fair as polls show farmers increasingly
tempted by the far-right's Marine Le Pen when they even bother
to vote at all.
Though only a fraction of the population still works in the
farm sector, voters remain attached to the country's agrarian
roots, making the annual agriculture fair a fixture of the
"Lots of us farmers are pinning our hopes on Marine," dairy
and poultry farmer Mickael Thomas said as he set up for the
nine-day-long show. "We see her with farmers more than other
Polls now show Le Pen placing first in a first round of
France's presidential election in April and losing in the second
round to a single candidate from the centre-left or
But that race has tightened, raising the prospect that the
National Front leader could become the first far-right
politician to win power through the ballot box in Western Europe
since World War Two.
Le Pen was due on Tuesday to start the parade of politicians
at the fair as the first major candidate to visit this year.
After years of crisis in the sector and perceived
indifference from other candidates, Le Pen's anti-EU
anti-globalisation rhetoric strikes a chord with many farmers,
once faithful voters for mainstream conservatives.
A Cevipof poll for Le Monde newspaper published on Feb. 16
showed that 35 percent of farmers who plan to vote will back Le
Pen in the election, compared to 26 percent of the general
population. Conservative Francois Fillon and centrist Emmanuel
Macron are both on 20 percent among farmers, close to their
The same poll also showed farmers are increasingly giving up
on politicians altogether, with 51 percent of the 300 surveyed
saying they would not vote.
"Farmers were always the French people who voted the most.
They voted like they went to mass," said sociologist Francois
Purseigle. "What's surprising about this survey is that they
might not go."
The mascot of this year's farm show, a six-year-old dairy
cow called "Fine", hails from an organic farm in the western
French town of Plesse -- historically Socialist territory.
But even here, the National Front is making inroads. The
party's vote more than tripled in December 2015 regional
elections compared with the previous poll in 2010.
Dairy farming is vital to the local economy but has
struggled since 2015 as plummeting prices, the end of EU quotas
and Russian sanctions inspired by the Ukraine crisis hit hard.
"We don't have faith anymore," a representative for the
FNSEA farmers' union in the region, Yoann Vetu, said.
"We know a thing or two about crises and we can't get out of
them. So the politicians might talk about it, but they don't
act," he said.
While Vetu believes Le Pen's protectionist policies would
hurt the sector, local FN representative and struggling dairy
farmer Olivier du Gourlay said his friends were turning to the
party in increasing numbers.
"We're asking ourselves, what's going on? Because we really
have been abandoned," he said.
(Additional reporting by Tatiana Chadenat; editing by Leigh
Thomas and Peter Graff)