French agriculture

French PM Castex announces state aid worth €1bn for frostbitten farmers

French Prime Minister Jean Castex (centre) speaks with a winegrower in Montagnac, near Beziers, southern France, on 17 April 2021 in a vineyard impacted by the frost.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex (centre) speaks with a winegrower in Montagnac, near Beziers, southern France, on 17 April 2021 in a vineyard impacted by the frost. © AFP - Sylvain Thomas

The French government has promised more than one billion euros to help frost-hit farmers and winemakers who have seen their crops decimated by one of the worst freezes in decades.

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French Prime Minister Jean Castex said that an “exceptional situation” called for “exceptional measures”, as he justified government support to the tune of one billion euros, during a meeting of farmers representatives in southern France.

Castex said the aid would arrive within 10 to 15 days for local officials to support those hardest hit farmers, according to reports from AFP.

“We were able to see again what human, economic and social tragedy this climatic accident represented,” said Castex, as reported in the regional press. “It is a question of survival for our farmers.”

Many arable farmers are stacking up huge losses after an intense freeze, that saw cold weather follow a period of seasonally unusual warm weather over hundreds of thousands of hectares, hitting 10 of France’s 13 regions.

Agricultural disaster

It is understood that farmers and tree growers who might qualify under the country’s usual support for agricultural disaster would receive up to 40 percent of their losses. They usually receive 35 percent, according to European regulation. Tax breaks will also be considered as part of measures.

Farmers growing beet and rapeseed, as well as those tending vines, kiwis, apricots, apples and other fruit have been impacted by the unpredictable weather.

The government’s move was welcomed by farmer unions, with Christine Lambert, head of the National Federation of Agricultural Holders' Unions (FNSEA), telling AFP that Paris had reacted in a speedy fashion and “taken stock” of the gravity of the situation.

Julien Denormandie, France’s agriculture minister, said the cash would be deployed for “rapid compensation” to help the hapless farmers.

Some agricultural lobby groups have warned that France’s fruit harvest could be devastated and essentially cut in two, booking losses of about 1.5 billion euros.

Less French wine

FNSEA has said vineyards could lose about one third of their production due to the climatic shock, costing some two billion euros.

The CNIV national winemakers’ association had previously cautioned that the catastrophe was “one of the most serious” in recent years and could lead to significant cutbacks in the amount of wine produced in a country which prides itself on its wine production.

Jean-Marie Barillere, head of European wine trade group CEEV, warned earlier in April that “we already know that we will have a very low harvest in 2021”, adding that some 80 percent of French vineyards were hit by the crisis.

Some French vineyards even resorted to setting small fires around their vines to help prevent the formation of frost, leading to warnings about smog and increased air pollution.

France is a major international exporter of wines and spirits, taking some 30 percent of total global revenues, worth some 13 billion euros in 2018, according to Business France.

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