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According to the French Minister of Agriculture, Julien Denormandie, the situation is "unprecedented, exceptional" by the scale of the farms affected throughout France. The frost that covered a large part of France in the first week of April is expected to be one of the worst in decades, with many crops including vines, fruit trees and cereals being hit, from north to south of the country. The losses are not yet quantified - professionals agree that it will take several days or even weeks - but the first findings show a widespread phenomenon.
The frost hit crops - vines and fruit trees - which were well into flowering, thanks to the mild temperatures that had preceded.
Wine professionals are particularly devastated. "It will be the smallest harvest of the Côtes-du-Rhône in the last 40 years": Philippe Pellaton, president of Inter-Rhône, evaluates at "about 80 to 90%" the losses suffered by the appellations of the Rhone Valley (nearly 68,000 hectares). In Bordeaux, Dominique Guignard crushes frozen vine leaves in his hands. "It breaks like glass because there is no more water, it has dried up completely, there is no more life", explains the president of the wine union of Graves.
This episode is "one of the most serious of the last decades" and it will cut the production of the year, estimated the CNIV (National Committee of the Interprofessions of the Wines with designation of origin and geographical indication). "We already know that we will have a very low harvest in 2021," its president Jean-Marie Barillère told AFP.
"This is a national phenomenon. We can try to go back in history, there were episodes in 1991, 1997, 2003 but there, in my opinion, we exceed all the indicators that suggest that it is much more serious than previous freezes, "notes Jerome Despey secretary general of the FNSEA and himself a wine grower in the Hérault.
Apricot crops totally lost
"What we know for sure is that the episode was dramatic. The situation is unprecedented, exceptional, it concerns both wine growing, both arboriculture, both field crops, "said Minister of Agriculture Julien Denormandie Friday morning on BFM TV, a few hours before going to Indre-et-Loire, to bring his support to the wine industry, and then go Saturday to arboriculturists in the Rhone Valley.
The minister announced that he was going to "launch the implementation" of the agricultural disaster scheme, notably funded by the State, to help the arboriculture industry. He also recalled that this device was not called to intervene in cases where insurance can be subscribed, as for field crops or vineyards. "Unfortunately too few hectares of vineyards are protected. Out of 800,000 hectares in France, only 200,000 are insured", says Jérôme Despey, of the FNSEA.
Worry in the plains
"The harvest is lost for this year completely, estimates Daniel Betton, arboriculturist in the Drôme, after inspecting his apricot trees. All the fruits they do not appear, but as soon as we open them, we see that it is necrotic, the cells have burst, the fruit will not grow it will fall."
In the plains, "we are very, very worried about the impact of the frost on cereals, without being able to draw a very reliable assessment at this time," agrees Eric Thirouin, president of the AGPB wheat producers' union.
For Jérôme Despey, it is urgent that measures to cover social security contributions be implemented by the Mutualité sociale agricole and that "we be able to benefit from the exemption from the tax on unbuilt land. "It is also necessary for the State to engage in a reflection on the system of agricultural disasters and risk management, particularly insurance, to better address these risks, which are increasingly violent due to climate change," he said.