The pomme de terre was introduced to France at the beginning of the 17th century, but its true value as food was not recognized until the late 18th century, when a renowned army chemist, A.A. Parmentier, recommended it as the solution to endemic famines that were then devastating the country.
Potato cultivation took off, with output rising from 1.5 million tonnes in 1803 to 11.8 million in 1865. Production reached its zenith in 1960, with a harvest of around 14 million tonnes. Since then, there has been a steady decline, with the 2007 harvest totalling just under 6.3 million tonnes. Some two million tonnes of France's potatoes are destined for the domestic fresh market, and one million tonnes for the processing industry. France is Europe's No. 1 exporter of fresh potatoes, with nearly 1.5 million tonnes shipped in 2005/2006, and dedicates some 14 500 ha for production of potato seedlings.
Today, the potato still has an important place in the national diet: the French consume each year nearly 30 kg per capita of fresh potatoes and another 25 kg of processed products. (Source: International Year of the Potato)