Why it stinks for French lavender

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AGRICULTURE Between the drop in prices, linked to global overproduction, and a sudden attack of caterpillars that devastated crops, French lavender is in the grip of many great difficulties

Why ça stinks for French lavender

The Plateau de Valensole. (Illustration) — LOUAI BARAKAT/SIPA

  • Lavender cultivation is in danger in France, as the price collapses due to global competition and overproduction.
  • Lavender growers have also been hit hard by the energy crisis following the war in Ukraine.
  • More recently, a caterpillar from North Africa ravaged the lavender fields.

There is beauty landscapes that delight Chinese tourists and addicts; Instagram. From purple rows to loss of sight and this unique, inimitable smell of lavender, which plunges anyone who smells it into the best of Provence. And then there is the front of the postcard, much darker. Perched on his Drômoise farm in 700 meters above sea level, Alain Aubanel sighs: “Many lavender growers around me are in a very complicated situation.”

French lavender is in crisis. The first fault is a caterpillar that has devastated everything; in its path, drained; in a sirocco in the middle of July on French plantations, especially at altitude. A butterfly from North Africa has laid eggs in the fields without warning. Three weeks later, the noctuid caterpillars emerged from their cocoon and attacked the flowers. “We tried to to race against the caterpillar but the caterpillar won. the race, laments the chairman of the committee; interprofessional body for French essential oils (CIHEF). There is between 30 and 100% damage depending on the location. This affected several hundred producers in France and several thousand hectares.”

Bulgarian competition

Yet another sledgehammer for a culture that has already weakened by international competition, new and shattering. “The problem is that we’ve had a dozen very, very good years,’sums up Alain Aubanel. Çit worked so well that the whole world decided; to make the lavender. And in three years, we found ourselves facing a phenomenon of overproduction. There was a 60% price crash. 70% in three years, to the point that prices are below the performance price. Bulgaria has become a world leader. Companies that are tempted to buy at low prices should abroad support the market; French. If it’s twice as expensive in France, it’s because we respect all the social and environmental conditions. The Bulgarian Smic is not the same as the French Smic.”

On top of that, the consequences of the war in Ukraine have added to the difficulties already experienced. strengths of the sector. “We took a very big slap, admits Alain Aubanel. We are big gas and oil consumers. through cultures and distillation. And it’s simple, I did a quick calculation, we took a 71% increase in the price of gas and the selling price of our production dropped. of 70%. In addition, due to the economic crisis, we realize that people are buying much less cleaning products. However, our products are found quite a lot in detergents.  ”

In this context, the government has announced the implementation of an exceptional aid scheme of 9 million euros for the sector. Necessary support but which Alain Aubanel fears is insufficient. “The people most in difficulty will die economically if we do not find a solution, alarms the lavender farmer. In the plains, some may be able to uproot lavender to get into tomatoes, for example. But in the mountains like at home, only lavender grows. And in these mountains, some have not sold for three years…””