Producers Assess Damage of Springtime Frost Across Southern France

One agricultural expert estimates that olive oil production in the 2021/22 crop year could fall by more than 25 percent as a result of damage caused by the frost.

Photo: Via Caritatis
By Jasmina Nevada
Jul. 14, 2021 09:52 UTC
Photo: Via Caritatis

After an unsea­son­able spring­time frost rav­aged the south of France in April, olive oil pro­duc­ers are expect­ing the com­ing har­vest will be heav­ily impacted.

Francois Aurouze, a land and agri­cul­tural expert at Vignoble Conseil, said that it usu­ally takes time to notice the impact of frosts on the har­vest, but this one had the effect of burn­ing the young shoots bear­ing the future flow­ers. As a result, the har­vest could be partly destroyed.”

We must wait until the har­vest time to assess pre­cisely how much it will affect the crop yield this year as we esti­mate a loss of at least 20 per­cent.- Gabriel Tessier, direc­tor of devel­op­ment, Via Caritatis

He esti­mates that the dam­age caused by the frost could lead to a har­vest decrease of between 25 to 30 per­cent.

Photos sent to Olive Oil Times show frost-dam­aged olive trees in the Var depart­ment, which sits in the cen­ter of the south­east­ern Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region. One tree has only two small olives at the end of the branch. The other olives never blos­somed after the frost destroyed the buds.

See Also:2021 Harvest Updates

On April 8, tem­per­a­tures across the south of France dropped to –7 ºC, dam­ag­ing many crops across the depart­ments of Var and Bouches-du-Rhône. It was the worst freeze since 1956 when frost destroyed mil­lions of olive trees across France and forced farm­ers to aban­don their groves.

When tem­per­a­tures are this extreme, there is noth­ing any­one can do,” Christiane Lambert, the pres­i­dent of the National Federation of Farmers’ Unions, said. Nature imposes itself on us.”

The extreme weather event, which some farm­ers worry could become increas­ingly fre­quent due to cli­mate change, forced the French gov­ern­ment to announce an agri­cul­tural dis­as­ter and pledge €1 bil­lion in finan­cial sup­port.

However, the National Federation of Farmers’ Unions warns that the dam­age may be closer to €3 bil­lion.


Photo: Vignoble Conseil

Anne and Gilles Brun are the own­ers of Moulin du Calanquet, in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, a com­mune of Bouches-du-Rhône. The couple’s olive grove is com­posed of 15,000 olive trees, cov­er­ing 80 hectares. They esti­mate that the frost dam­aged 80 per­cent of the trees in 27 hectares of the grove.

In the last har­vest, Moulin de Calanquet pro­duced 65,000 liters of olive oil from five vari­eties: Grossane, Verdale, Aglandau, Salonenque and Picholine.

We have the know-how, a great expe­ri­ence of the land, so per­se­ver­ance and opti­mism are impor­tant,” Giles Brun told the Olive Oil Times. We are work­ing to boost the har­vest of the next two years.”

Brun mon­i­tors the olive grove closely with sen­sors on trees that pro­vide him with a wealth of data. The olive grove is equipped with drip irri­ga­tion to sup­ply a bal­ance of water and nutri­ents, work­ing night and day to obtain opti­mum grow­ing results.

The Bruns are look­ing at var­i­ous solu­tions to avoid the frost, with high-cost impli­ca­tions.


Photo: Moulin de Calanquet

We need 13,000 can­dles, but to place them in the olive grove, we need to hire the full pop­u­la­tion of Saint Rémy de Provence,” he said. It would be too expen­sive.”

Another solu­tion could be to use water that forms an ice cube on the tree to pro­tect it,” he added. The best solu­tion is to use amino acid to make the tree more resis­tant.”

About an hour north of Moulin de Calanquet is Via Caritatis, a monastery located in the heart of Provence that con­sists of a vine­yard and vast olive grove.


In the last har­vest, the monastery pro­duced 1,300 liters of oil, a low-yield­ing year. This year, the pro­duc­ers at Via Caritatis expect around 1,000 liters, down from the usual yield of about 1,700 liters.

Gabriel Tessier, direc­tor of devel­op­ment for the monastery, said that the frost of April 8 had dras­tic con­se­quences for their estate.

Two big plots of olive trees were com­pletely frozen dur­ing this night and will not pro­duce any fruit this year,” he said. We must wait until the har­vest time to assess pre­cisely how much it will affect the crop yield this year as we esti­mate a loss of at least 20 per­cent.”

Springtime frost is noth­ing new for the pro­duc­ers at the monastery. According to Tessier, the Saints Days, from May 11 to 13, are also known as the Ice Saints since they have coin­cided with late frosts.


Photo: Via Caritatis

Generally, the pro­duc­ers at Via Caritatis mit­i­gate the poten­tial dam­age of these frosts by prun­ing the trees just around the time of har­vest instead of dur­ing the spring, which allows the branches to develop in a period not sub­ject to frost and aid fruit-flow­er­ing in the fol­low­ing year.

The pro­duc­ers also care­fully select where they will plant new trees based on pre­vi­ous freez­ing events.

However, after the most recent freez­ing event, Tessier is uncer­tain of the out­come that these present meth­ods have in com­bat­ting the effects of frost.

Aurouze believes that using straw fires in the groves or installing wind tur­bines, which mix warmer lay­ers of air far­ther from the ground with cooler ones to pre­vent frost from form­ing, are pos­si­ble solu­tions for grow­ers to mit­i­gate the risks of spring­time frosts.

He also rec­om­mends prun­ing olive trees at the lat­est pos­si­ble oppor­tu­nity after the risk of an April frost has sub­sided. However, he added that with cli­mate change, spring frosts will undoubt­edly be more and more fre­quent.”


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