The announcement of a cold snap shakes the agricultural world in the Southwest

The Irouleguy vineyard under the snow, in Saint-Etienne-de-Baïgorry (Pyrénées-Atlantiques), on April 1, 2022.

“Bud that grows in April puts little wine in the barrel. » In Occitania, as in the whole agricultural world, we love the sayings that punctuate the seasons. But this beginning of April could turn out to be catastrophic for the vines and the fruit trees. As in April 2021, temperatures below zero are announced throughout the south-west of France. In Gers, Aude or Tarn-et-Garonne, the thermometer could even reach -6 degrees on Sunday.

Friday 1er April, at the beginning of the afternoon, it was snowing in Aveyron, in the Pyrenean massif and even in Toulouse (Haute-Garonne). Everyone is on a war footing”, says Christian Schievene, arborist in Moissagais (Tarn-et-Garonne). In this department, the leading French producer of apples and plums, 70% to 100% of the crops had been destroyed by frost in the spring of 2021, and 80% of the production of apricots and peaches wiped out. “This year, we still fear the frost and the wind, combined with the increase in fuel oil and that of imports of Polish apples due to the war in Ukraine”, fears Christian Schievene, who tries somehow to protect his 15 hectares of apple trees.

Read also: Snow and ice over a large part of France on Friday, twenty-two departments on orange alert

Antifreeze, stretched nets, sprinkling (diffusing a protective layer of water on the trees), candles or even hay burned in the plots, all means are good to try to stop the calamity. In Lot-et-Garonne, José-David Perez, 41, will burn hay in his orchards “to raise the temperature a little”. Kiwis or plum trees are already in flower and the operator, on 65 hectares, will irrigate his rows of apple trees to “keep the heat on the ground”. In this department with very varied cultures, some should also use candles, usually installed in the vineyards. “ But at 17 euros per candle, it costs a fortune”says José-David Perez.

Not far from there, in the Gers, Bernard Lannes, national president of the Rural Coordination, is sorry to see deviations of more than 30 degrees in less than fifteen days. The saps have therefore risen very quickly and the damage will only be more dramatic”. In the valleys of the department, some large propellers, with two blades, have been mounted in the fields, to, again, stir and heat the air.

The plots of vines have “budded”

Further east and south, it is the vineyards that risk suffering the onslaught of cold. With 34% of the French wine-growing area, Occitania asserts itself as the leading French wine-growing region, of which 32% of the plots are in the Hérault, 25% in the Aude and 21% in the Gard. All for a turnover generated of 1.8 billion euros. Suffice to say that the weekend, in case of freezing of the buds, could be fatal.

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In the wine estates, nearly a third of production had been cut in 2021. Exemptions from social security contributions had been decided in Gard, Aude, Pyrénées-Orientales and Hérault, where only 14% of winegrowers are insured. One year later, “the territory is so disparate, especially in Piedmont, that everyone is organized a little according to their grape varieties and especially their location”, comments the Syndicate of Winegrowers of the Aude. Around March 20, the majority of the plots were at the stage known as « bud in the cotton » – they are said to have “broken” – and the earliest ones now have two to three spread leaves. In the Gard, Chardonnay leaves even appeared between Alès, Nîmes and Arles, the latest zone.

At the domain of Saint Martin de Divisan, at the gates of Béziers (Hérault), François Coulouma scrutinizes his 65 hectares of organic wine and “hope the tide will turn”. If, here, “vegetation is less advanced, we have no way of fighting, apart from a lawn mower which just prevents the frost from depositing between the rows of vines”. For Jacques Tranier, managing director of the Tarn wine cooperative Vinovalie, “we had lost half of the harvest in 2021 but we think it will be less serious this spring”. This lover of Gamay or Malbec calls for a new dialogue with the State to “sustaining the principle of crop insurance” and for “putting pressure on banks and insurers who no longer follow us”.

The law reforming the crop insurance system in the face of the multiplication of meteorological hazards was published in Official newspaper of March 3, 2022. It establishes one-stop shops to simplify procedures, the government’s financial commitment to pay up to 600 million euros per year to operate the system and a lowering of the franchise threshold for insurance contracts. assurance. A real breath of warm air before a dreaded weekend.

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