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Strawberries, melons, asparagus

More greenhouse lootings in the Vaucluse department

Greenhouse looters: the thefts of strawberries, asparagus and melons are increasing
Farmers are facing a multiplication of thefts of their productions, in greenhouses and in the fields.

Significant damage has been reported and the perpetrators seem to be professionals. Many investigations are already open in several departments. 

The scale is unprecedented. In the fields, thefts are frequent, but the fruit and vegetable producers are now faced with thefts on a larger scale. Asparagus, strawberries, tomatoes, melons…no crop has been spared by the thieves who clearly seem to be professionals.  

Christophe Charvin, strawberry producer in the Vaucluse, testified about the situation to French TV channel TF1. He became aware of the theft when he came to harvest part of his production. Torn off plants and in total, 1,000 euros [1,073 USD] of production taken in just a few hours. A profitable operation for the thieves, which forces producers to be on maximum alert. 

Call for producers to be extremely vigilant
After several weeks of patrols to guard his farm, the producer decided to install cameras. Given the multiplication of thefts, the mayor of Caderousse (Vaucluse), Christophe Reynier-Duval, has called on the police to help. “These are clearly organized thieves. They fill up entire crates and load vehicles especially made to carry those crates.” The mayor talks about “organized gangs”. In response, the police have intensified their patrols, especially in the most remote areas where most of the thefts occur.

No area seems to be spared. Earlier this month, TV channels had reported on a village in the Bas-Rhin department where crops of eggplants, cucumbers and zucchinis had been stolen. Nearly 500 plants in total, representing a loss of 7,000 euros [7,508 USD] for Maurice Meyer, the farm manager. In the video below, he is convinced that the thieves are professionals. “No evidence, nothing was broken, not a single plant crushed, no damage at all.” The producer has pressed charges and an investigation is underway.

French police are taking these cases very seriously. “Since the end of April, the thefts of vegetables have increased on many farms,” according to captain Antoine Jouclas. However, it is difficult to catch the thieves in the act, especially once they are no longer on the farm.


Repeated thefts of strawberries in the Vaucluse, "we have gone from petty to organized thefts”
There have always been thefts of fruit and vegetables, but the quantities have increased in recent years and the methods have changed. We are no longer talking about stealing for personal consumption.

Although red and ripe, the strawberries of Michel Tort struggle to find buyers. Because of inflation, consumers buy fewer strawberries. But it is not the only problem. Like all farmers, especially those of the Vaucluse department, he has been the victim of many thefts. 

“We, strawberry growers, are forced to barricade ourselves at the moment in order to face the numerous thefts. And other fruit and vegetables are also stolen, along with some equipment, which represents huge sums of money,” explains Michel Tort, strawberry producer in the Vaucluse.

Padlocks and video surveillance for protection
In order to protect their crops, farmers like Michel Tort have been forced to make some investments. “The insurance companies are asking for video surveillance more and more, but the equipment is expensive.”

All these expenses come at the worst time. “The cost of strawberry production is already very high, especially now, with the increase in energy prices,” explains the producer. “With the heatwaves, the drought and the declining purchasing power, people consume fewer strawberries than in previous years.”

Producers are therefore dreading this season that already looks quite limited. This concern from strawberry growers is also affecting many other farmers of the department.

The farm of Michel Tort is divided into several parts, in order to be able to spread the production throughout the season. Some of his strawberries grow in the fields and this part of the production is highly vulnerable. The same applies to the strawberries that grow in ventilated greenhouses, which are not locked. The rest of the production is protected in locked greenhouses with video surveillance. 

Same plan of action as for the truffles?
The mobilization had been a success. Some years ago, truffle growers were also faced with methodical lootings. Fences, enclosures, padlocks…truffle growers had multiplied the precautions in order to avoid the thefts. The arrests were not enough to discourage the thieves who were going as far as to steal the dogs of the truffle growers in order to find the “black gold”.

Tired of these thefts, the growers had alerted the authorities, including the prefect of the Vaucluse department. A surveillance system was then put in place with police patrols around the truffle fields, targeted road checks and thermal cameras .   tweet produce section / FDSEA 

Vaucluse: explosion of lootings on farms
Dozens of kilos of strawberries, hundreds of kilos of asparagus: in recent years, the amount of thefts has increased on farms near Avignon. Organized looting to feed a black market, most likely.

Christophe Charvin lives just 500 meters from his greenhouses. At the end of March, he got up at dawn to harvest strawberries with his workers. “Half of the greenhouse had been stolen. They had taken the strawberries by hand in the middle of the night, trampled plants and ripped flowers…a terrible sight.”

The producer thinks the operation was well organized. “They need headlamps, people who know how to harvest and adapted vehicles. These strawberries must be consumed on that day or the next, so they must sell them on the side of the road or go door-to-door, on a parallel market.”

This phantom threat hangs over the whole sector. The mayor of Caderousse has received 5 complaints from farmers of his village. “Sometimes tomatoes, other times asparagus. We have always had thefts but now, we are talking about professionals. We have met with the police, who will increase the night patrols and we have created an interactive map of the fields and greenhouses where the production is almost ripe and about to be harvested,” explains Christophe Reynier-Duval.

What he fears the most is a bad encounter: a producer guarding his farm at night and coming face to face with a group of thieves. “We will also install some surveillance cameras, for several reasons. We have just passed through some very difficult years and we really do not need this,” explains Christophe Charvin.

The strawberries of Christophe Charvin, producer in the Vaucluse.

Credit: Hugo Amelin / RTL

A “resurgence” of these thefts
How many thefts of fruit and vegetables have been reported in the area? “It is difficult to get an exact number because not all thefts are reported,” explains Gérard Roche, head of the produce section at the Departmental Federation of Farmers’ Unions 84. “We cannot monitor all of our crops. In addition to fruit and vegetables, thefts of fuel and tractor batteries have also been reported…There have always been thefts, but there seems to be a resurgence.”

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