At least a third of French wine production this year, accounting for nearly two billion euros ($ 2.4 billion) in sales, will be lost due to unusually cold weather in early spring, a federation.
The secretary general of the National Federation of Farmers’ Unions (FNSEA), Jérôme Despey, told AFP that the estimate was made after consultation with all the players in the sector.
The rare freezing temperatures that caused some of the worst damage in decades to crops and vines hit France earlier this month, with consequences made worse by the fact that the cold snap came after warm weather.
“It is probably the biggest agricultural disaster of the beginning of the 21st century,” Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie said on Monday, adding that France had never experienced such a wave of frost at the beginning of spring. The government is preparing a package of emergency measures.
The government is preparing an emergency rescue plan following rare freezing temperatures that could cause some of the most severe damage in decades to crops and vines across the country.
From Bordeaux to Burgundy and from the Rhone Valley to Champagne, the winegrowers were back in their estates on Friday to inspect the destruction.
To avoid freezing overnight on Tuesday and Wednesday, farmers across the country lit thousands of small fires and candles near their vines or fruit trees.
Some well-heeled wineries have hired helicopters to try and keep the heat close to the ground.
The fire was so intense in the southeast that it left a layer of smog over the region, including the city of Lyon.
In addition to vines, growers of kiwis, apricots, apples and other fruits have been hit hard, as have farmers of other crops such as beetroot and rapeseed.
During a visit to the Loire vineyards, French Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie said it was “an episode of extreme violence which caused extremely significant damage”.
The government has declared an “agricultural disaster,” which means it will start offering financial support to farmers, and Denormandie called on banks and insurance companies to join in the efforts.
Many winegrowers are not insured against the effects of frost due to the cost of coverage and many growers were already struggling financially.
The Covid-19 pandemic has lowered the demand for wine around the world due to the closure of restaurants and bars.
Exports to the United States have also been affected by tariffs on French wine imposed by former US President Donald Trump, while the vital UK market has also suffered from Brexit.
A group of 60 French deputies from wine regions issued an open letter on Friday urging the government to come to the aid of producers, saying they “really feared the worst”.
The practice of lighting fires or candles near vines or fruit trees to prevent frost from forming is a long-standing technique used in early spring when the first green shoots and first flowers are vulnerable to the cold.
Some winemakers also use wind turbines to prevent frost from setting in.
Others use water sprinklers to deliberately create ice that acts like a mini-igloo around the branches, preventing the frost from drying out the leaves.