Its relief, geology and climate mean that France has a high farming potential. Most regions have plenty of good farmland, whose varieties include the Limon soil of the Paris basin, the brown earth of the Atlantic forests and the red earth of the Mediterranean regions. With 16 million hectares of forests - 29% of its territory - France has the highest proportion of forested land in the European Union (which has been true throughout history, since Julius Caesar referred to France as "hairy Gallia" in his memoirs). .
The area covered by woods and forests has almost doubled in the last century, thanks to reforestation projects and the drift away from farming. In regions with an oceanic climate, forests are mainly broad-leaved - oak-trees preferring sunny areas and beeches thriving in cooler, damper parts. In Mediterranean regions, the need to adapt to dry summers means that evergreens tend to dominate. The Holm oak thrives on chalky soil and the cork oak on siliceous soil. The most prevalent conifers are the maritime pine, Aleppo pine and Corsican pine. In mountain forests, broad-leaved trees grow in the valleys and on the lower slopes. Higher up, they give way to conifers, which are more resistant to the cold winter temperatures. These conifers are mainly spruce and fir trees in areas with high precipitation such as the Vosges, the Jura and the northern Alps. But in dry areas like the Southern Alps, larches, which lose their needle-like leaves in winter, make up most of the forest cover.
Despite their large surface area, French forests yield only 33 million m3 of wood per year. Production does not meet demand and the balance of trade for lumber and byproducts shows an annual deficit of over 16 billion. This shortfall can partly be explained by the extremely fragmented nature of forest ownership. The State and local authorities have control over only 4 million hectares, most of which are in the Paris basin, the Loire Valley and northeastern France.