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|The grain silos at La Celle Saint Avant.|
The grain silos at La Celle Saint Avant are run by Agrial, the largest agricultural co-operative in France. We have a sort of connection to them because our place was a grain merchant's in the early and mid-twentieth century, and one of the people who grew up here, who has become a friend, was the manager of the silo complex at La Celle Saint Avant.
|The old silos.|
So much grain is produced in this area that it takes a full cycle of the seasons to empty the silos in preparation for the new harvest. They are located right next to the railway station of Port de Piles, and rail transport is crucial for distributing the grain. Port de Piles and La Celle Saint Avant are twin towns, one each side of the Creuse, close to its confluence with the Vienne. In the Touraine Loire Valley there are six such big silo complexes directly networked to the railway, at Reignac sur Indre, Villeperdue, Descartes, Neuillé Pont Pierre and Ville aux Dames, as well as La Celle Saint Avant. Two or three trains a week head out from these stations, transporting grain to the Port of La Rochelle. It takes 45 semi-trailers to carry the same as one grain train. Just three of the silo complexes, those owned by Agrial, store 180 000 tonnes of grain. The other big co-operative in the area is Axéréal, who own four of the silo complexes. If there is a rail strike the impact on the grain transport is in tens of thousands of euros, sometimes into the millions.
|The silos viewed from the station.|
The town is located on the old Highway 10 (now the Route Départementale 910), between Chatellerault to the south and Tours to the north. The railway likewise follows this route, while the new Autoroute 10 sweeps round further to the west. The countryside around the town is open and slightly undulating, as you can imagine, typical of grain producing areas.
|The old silos.|
Agrial was created in 2000, when three agricultural co-operatives in Normandy came together. Ever since it has steadily developed by absorbing other co-operatives and acquiring private businesses, not just dealing with grains, but now also dairy, drinks and ready to use vegetables. They are active not just in France but in other European countries, Africa, the USA and the UK, and own the brands Florette, Maitre Jacques, Elle & Vire, Ecusson and Loic Raison, amongst many others. They took over the silos at La Celle Saint Avant in 2009, as part of an acquisition of a failing co-operative. The move meant that they also acquired pork and beef holdings, stock feed and nearly 40 Gamm Vert concessions.
|The silos at La Celle Saint Avant and the shed at Port de Piles railway station.|
Today Agrial has a total turnover of 5.84 billion euros and they are the European leaders in ready to eat salad leaf. Dairy is more than 40% of their activities, and grain is less than a quarter. They have 9100 members of the agricultural (grain) side of the co-operative and deal with between 1.3 and 1.8 million tonnes of grain annually, of which 60% is wheat.
|Port de Piles railway station.|
Port de Piles railway station is on the Paris Austerlitz to Bordeaux Saint Jean line. Curiously, the station is called Port de Piles, but is actually in La Celle Saint Avant, across the river. It was put into service in 1851. There are three platforms and a passenger service every day except Sundays and public holidays to Poitiers in one direction and Tours the other, with the journey taking about half an hour either way.
|The station building.|
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