In the south of France, the 230 members of the Rougeline cooperative grow 340 hectares of tomatoes, strawberries and cucumbers under
glass. In comparison, 700 hectares of lettuce, kiwi, tomatoes and wheat are planted in the field.
For the cooperative, it is a question of defending French interests: "There is a market and you have to provide for it. I prefer a consumer who buys a French tomato in March or April, rather than a Moroccan or Spanish tomato," says Bruno Vila, president of Rougeline, based in Saint-Cyprien, in the Pyrénées-Orientales. Indeed, the cost of labour is 12.50 euros per hour, in France, compared to 2 to 4 euros in Andalusia and 7 euros per day in Morocco.
The greenhouses are mechanized and the techniques for assisting tasks are used to the maximum, in particular thanks to electric and hydraulic trolleys, and to cultivation on suspended gutters. The cooperative has a partnership with the start-up, Syha, which has developed a prototype robot equipped with a two-fingered tool capable of picking tomatoes, and with the AOPN Tomatoes and Cucumbers of France, which is expected to develop new solutions by 2022.
A greenhouse costs between €700,000 and €1.4 million per hectare. The equipment has a lifetime of 25 to 30 years. Average yields are around 400 tonnes per hectare of bunch of tomatoes and 200 tonnes of cherry tomatoes. For the open field, the yield is lower, around 80 tonnes per hectare in round tomatoes. These results are explained by a longer harvest period: 5 to 8 months in greenhouses, 2 to 3 months in the field.
Since most crops are grown above ground, they have access to the Zero Pesticide Residue label and not the organic label.
With 230 farms, Les Paysans de Rougeline produced 90,000 tonnes of fruit and vegetables last year, for a turnover of 123 million euros.