The frost episodes earlier this month have devastated the crops. The Minister of Agriculture, Julien Denormandie, declared on Monday that it was “probably the greatest agronomic disaster of the early 21st century.” It is still too early to evaluate the damage, but French fruit may be scarce this summer.
Françoise Roch, president of the National Federation of Fruit Producers (FNPF) and producer in the Tarn-et-Garonne, explains that her “system was activated until mid-morning. It went down to -2°C. We are used to this kind of frost this time of year. We call this ‘white frost’, or light morning frost, with low temperatures close to the ground. But last week, we experienced ‘black frost’. We are not used to this type of frost this time of year. It can start very early, as soon as the night falls and stay for many hours with a significant drop in temperatures, close to the ground as well as in the air.
"Here, we went down to -6°C, and in some regions, down to -8°C. Such frost is not usual this late in the year, and that is catastrophic. In the winter, a fruit tree is resting and can withstand temperatures of -20°C. But in this case, the vegetation was already advanced because February was very warm this year and the trees thought that spring had arrived already. In such conditions, the slightest cold spell destroys the harvests.”
According to Daniel Sauvaitre, arboriculturist and winegrower in Charente and secretary general of Interfel,” each region in turn has been affected. First the north and the east down to the region of Tours, then the Deux-Sèvres, Charentes and the Garonne valley. And finally, along the Rhône canal down to the Languedoc-Roussillon and the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur.”
Apricots and cherries have suffered the most
“Several hundreds of thousands of hectares have been impacted,” according to Julien Denormandie. The wine sector and the stone fruit, especially the apricots and the cherries, are among the most affected. The fruit that had already passed flowering and fruit set will not be harvested this year. According to Françoise Roch, the Rhône valley and the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur for example “are areas that had never seen such cold temperatures this time of year. Only the farmers that were able to protect their production will make it.”
As for the cherries, the president of FNPF claims that “there will be almost nothing” and she adds that losses are also significant for table grapes and plums.
Daniel Sauvaitre explains that it is still too early to evaluate the damage on peaches and nectarines, but he remains optimistic for the apples. “From the north of France to the Garonne valley, the flowers that have yet to open and only faced a little bit of frost should still give a harvest. All is not lost for the apples,” but the producer is still cautious. “We are not out of the woods yet until the usual cold snap around mid-May. And record temperatures of 1,2 or 3°C are sometimes enough to cause a lot of damage.”
According to Françoise Roch, it is necessary to wait 3 weeks in order to know the true extent of the damage. “We will then be able to obtain a precise assessment of the damage, farm by farm. Until then, we will see how the fruit that did not fall will react. If the tree has been disturbed, some fruit that look spared could still fall, adding to the loss. Some fruit can also continue to grow but if their skin froze, it may become rough and all brown, so only good for processing.”
Price increase to be expected
The shortage of products will naturally lead to higher prices. “If only 30% of the fruit can be harvested, the fruit will cost a lot more. It is normal for the producer to charge more in order to compensate for the losses and all the costs involved,” explains Françoise Roch. “But we hope that the purchasing centers and the stores will play the game so that prices do not soar too much, and that consumers will be understanding and kind enough to buy French products, even if they are a little bit more expensive.”