After the last frost, Gers agriculture – especially its viticulture – held its breath. Compensation for 2021 is still in progress.
That was almost a year ago. Beginning of April 2021. After a mild winter, when the vegetation is in full development, frost hits. The thermometer drops to – 5° in places. Everywhere, impressive damage destroys the vineyard. How were farmers compensated for their losses?
A year later, the process is far from complete. More than one million euros in direct compensation was paid to Gers farmers after this episode of frost. Of this overall sum, 60% comes from the State, 40% from the Region, and 10% from the funds of the Department. “Today, we are in a support phase via the system of agricultural disasters, says Bernard Malabirade, president of the chamber of agriculture. It is duplicated with coverage of crop losses for farmers who are not insured, on “Disasters” file, and for the others, it is a coverage of 2.5% of the deductible. insurance. The State adds another accompaniment, with the assumption of responsibility for social and wage contributions.
A sign of the taking into account of increasingly violent climatic risks, the Chamber of Agriculture has identified very few uninsured files in the department.
There are several reasons for this, including the group contracts of cooperatives, which negotiate strong discounts with insurers. “But there are still holes in the racket,” concedes the president of the chamber. Those who decide to play climatic roulette do so knowingly, and assume that they are strong enough to withstand heavy losses. “Insurance is expensive, slips Bernard Malabirade. We are on contracts that can reach 3 to 5% of the gross product of the insured plots, depending on the turnover per hectare. “Problem: insurance coverage falls, while the accumulation of claims causes a sharp rise in rates. “In 2023, the insurance system should be overhauled, explains Jean Bugnicourt, the deputy director of the chamber of agriculture. Currently, it is calculated with the reference yield, impacted by successive calamities. If you take a year of hail, a year of frost, things play out very quickly! »
Is the umbrella enough? “For someone who is insured and who has a loss between 30 and 50%, with state aid, yes, the support is good, admits the president of the chamber of agriculture. But there is a strong loss of value. An episode like that of 2021 causes volumes to drop, for individuals and cooperatives alike, that’s the worst. »
Many farms who thought they had lost everything realized a posteriori that the frost had less damage than expected. For others, it’s the other way around. “In Armagnac, we recorded losses of around 80% on an ad hoc basis,” says Jean Bugnicourt. Some sectors benefit from production methods. The Madiran, where the wine is kept for two years before marketing, does not experience the difficulties of the Côtes de Gascogne, sold within the year.
“One of the problems with the frost for the Côtes de Gascogne is also that vines have sometimes been planted in lower, wetter growing areas, says Alain Bortolussi, from Château de Viella. It’s normal, they need production, but they are more vulnerable to it. We had the lowest vines affected by 10% in 2021. This year, we are crossing our fingers that it does not drop below -2°. »
Frost 2022: damage difficult to assess
For the crops, and the vineyard in particular, the hardest part is over. “It was at night from Sunday to Monday that it was coldest in the Gers, especially in the morning, indicates a meteorologist from Météo France. With the return of the sun on Monday morning, the temperatures very quickly became milder again, and this should increase in the days to come. “It was especially around Auch that it was cold, with – 4.1°, a record after – 3.7° in 2021. The 2022 episode was not a “black” frost. It was thus 0.1° in Condom at the coldest of the night, – 2.5° in Gimont, or – 2.5° in Houga. Fleurance takes the hit with – 3.3°. Further west, Mirande shows – 2.4°.
Despite low temperatures for the month of April, we are far from the thermometer drops recorded elsewhere in France. But the frost hit some areas of the department hard. At the Gers Chamber of Agriculture, the first lifts are still very patchy on Monday. But the situation is considered alarming. The cantons of Eauze, Nogaro and Cazaubon seem more affected, to very different degrees, depending on the vine species concerned. “We are again faced with an early frost,” says Bernard Malabirade, president of the Gers Chamber of Agriculture. This year, the plants had not reached the same physiological stage, however. There are 15 days difference. »
This was not enough for some earlier varieties: Colombard, Gros-Manseng and Chardonnay, which had taken off, were the main victims of the frost. For the other grape varieties, it is still too early to draw conclusions, specifies Bernard Malabirade. “You can have good and bad surprises. The damage to the buds can have an impact until July, depending on the effects of frost on flowering…” This new blow to the vineyard comes as the rules for agricultural insurance were to be revised in 2023. At first glance, the damage would often be too low to be compensated by insurance. “We generally have deductibles of 20% on the plots, confides Bernard Malabirade. We are awaiting a more complete return to assess the extent of the damage. »