In Carpentras, the strawberry season is in full swing, yet producers are struggling. Indeed, this fruit is less and less profitable: "Every year I reduce my surface area, I only have one hectare left. Usually Spanish and French productions follow one another naturally. This year, it hits you. Spain has lagged behind and we are ahead of the volumes," explains Alain Barjol, a producer in the region. This has an impact on prices: "It's a jungle out there! Everyone applies their prices. The most scandalous thing is that the central purchasing offices of supermarkets set the selling price in advance. I pay 50 cents for a strawberry plant, I have 8 employees who cost me €2,000 each per month, plus maintenance and upkeep.
Several producers complain that supermarkets are setting up commercial operations with large Spanish producers even before the plants bear fruit. While the cost to farmers is increasing each year, central purchasing groups set prices based on previous years.
In addition, the specifications on the French side are becoming more and more demanding. "Unlike Spanish strawberries which are full of pesticides, our strawberries have certifications. A certification costs on average €1,000. I also rely on auxiliaries that allow me to limit the use of phyto-pharmaceutical products as much as possible. This year, these insect releases cost me €9,000," says Virginie Fraysse, who has 7 hectares of production for 32 pickers.
In Andalusia, the pickers are paid an average of 39.48 € gross per day. This is a salary equivalent to that of the Eastern European Union countries. Since 2001, thanks to a system set up between Morocco and Spain, several thousand Moroccan pickers have been applying for a seasonal worker visa to participate in the harvest.
Every year, nearly 400,000 tonnes of Spanish strawberries are crushed in France, compared to 6,000 tonnes produced in the Vaucluse.
For Dominique Begnis, president of the brotherhood of the Strawberry of Carpentras, the production cost per kilo for a country strawberry is €3.80 while the Spanish strawberry is traded at 80 cents in some markets. "Our only arguments are based on the promotion of know-how and product quality. We are waiting for the end of the harvest and we will organize ourselves to create a PGI for better protection," he said.
The union of farmers seems to be the only way to defend their crops and know-how in an increasingly competitive context.