Fruit growing in France
The International Fruit Tree Association 2008 study tour to France included 12 days of visiting orchards, research stations, packing houses, and nurseries. Melissa Hansen reports on the French tree fruit industry and its challenges.
See "Regions in France" legend, in gray box, below.
|The International Fruit Tree Association 2008 study tour to France included 12 days of visiting orchards, research stations, packing houses, and nurseries. Melissa Hansen reports on the French tree fruit industry and its challenges.|
France is a country rich in history, tradition, and culture. Farmhouses are older than many towns and cities in the New World, and French vineyardists follow practices adopted more than a century ago. But France's tree fruit industry is vibrant, focused, and follows modern practices. It's anything but dated.
During the tour, IFTA members saw state-of-the-art packing facilities with robotic equipment, new apple varieties on vertical training systems, elaborate trellising and extensive use of hail nets, well-funded research and extension programs, and strong public and private breeding programs.
The size of Texas and home to 61 million people, France is a self-sufficient nation and produces enough grain, cattle, cheese, fruits, and vegetables to feed itself as well as other countries. Small farms, orchards, and vineyards dot the rolling countryside where growers produce stone fruit in the southern region, and apples and pears in the southwest, central, and northern regions.
The country produces 1.5 to 1.8 million metric tons of apples annually on about 50,000 hectares (123,500 acres). More than half of the country's apples are Golden Delicious. Gala, Red Delicious, and Granny Smith each represent less than 10 percent of the total volume.
Club or managed systems are becoming the norm for the release of new varieties. Nearly 25 managed varieties are grown in Europe, with varieties coming from around the world. French growers are focused on producing quality and have responded to consumer demand for flavorful and attractive apples. New selections are evaluated for sugar, acidity, storability, and other factors. Many of the new varieties grown, in response to consumer preference, are "stripey" bicolored apples.
There is strong support in France for local products. Some growers have found a niche growing French varieties, such as Belchard, for specific French markets.
About one-third of the total apple production is exported. Nearby England is the primary export market. Fruit is also exported to other European Union countries.
It is the high cost of labor—not the availability—that is the major limiting factor of the French tree fruit industry. Labor costs are so high that some say they are a major reason why there are so few fresh-market sweet cherries grown in France.
The lowest agricultural wage in France is around 10 euros per hour (U.S.$16), but most orchard workers are paid from 12 to 14 euros per hour. By the time employer taxes are included, the hourly wage is equivalent to U.S.$20 to $24. Work weeks are based on 35 hours; overtime is paid for work performed more than the maximum 35 hours per week. Permanent employees receive five weeks of vacation.
Poland, a country that faced 20 percent unemployment several years ago, has become the source of much of Europe's agricultural work force since it joined the European Union in 2004. It was estimated that 80 percent of France's seasonal labor comes from Poland.
Today, the jobless rate in Poland is less than 10 percent, in part because it is easy for the Polish to find better-paying jobs in other E.U. countries. Agricultural wages in Poland are three to four times less than agricultural wages in France, and work visas are not needed, said Krzysztof Hermanowicz, orchardist from Mogielnica, Poland. "The best workers are leaving Poland and going to other countries," he said.
Ireland was the first country to completely open its borders to temporary workers from the E.U., which resulted in 700,000 Poles leaving for the promise of an Irish job, according to Hermanowicz.
Labor contractors are used in some regions to help move workers around, providing transportation from the home country to new jobs, and a list of employers seeking workers. Because housing is needed to attract seasonal agricultural workers, many of the French growers have converted barns and outbuildings into dormitories.
There is no tree fruit farming on the cheap in France. The majority of orchards have hail nets, which add significantly to the cost of growing apples and pears. Estimated costs for hail nets and the wire and posts to support the nets are from U.S.$7,000 to $10,000 per acre. Hail nets are spread out after bloom to avoid interference with pollination, and tied together but left up after harvest to protect the nets from damage by snow.
Tree costs are much higher in France than the United States, with average costs ranging from 3.5 to 4.5 euros (U.S.$5.60 to $7.20), plus royalties. Tree quality observed at the nurseries was exceptional. Highly feathered trees are available as well as knip trees.
The average number of trees planted per hectare is around 2,000 (equivalent to slightly more than 800 trees per acre).
Americans have complained this past summer about steep fuel costs, but when unleaded gasoline in the United States was averaging around $4 per gallon, French consumers were paying around $6 per gallon.
French orchardists struggle with many of the same issues that growers face in other countries. At the end of 2008, they will lose the use of Sevin (carbaryl), an important chemical fruit thinner. As of yet, no thinning alternatives have been registered, although Maxcel (benzyladenine) is expected to receive registration in 2009. The broad-spectrum insecticide Lorsban (chlorpyrifos) will also be eliminated from their toolbox.
Codling moth and scab disease are the primary apple pests that French growers battle. Scab incidence in 2008 was particularly high due to a very cool spring. Mating disruption is widely used for codling moth control.
As in other countries, including the United States, there is great disparity between what the grower receives and the price at the retail level. Through the French national growers union, an organization representing growers, retailer and grower discussions have escalated into physical fights, with growers publicly throwing fruit on the floor to express their discontent over the wide gap between grower and retail prices.
|REGIONS IN FRANCE |
2. Lower Normandy
3. Upper Normandy
4. Nord Pas de Calais
6. Ile de France
7. Chapagne- Ardenne
10. Pays de la Loire
11. Centre Val de Loire / Anjou
13. Franche Comte
14. Poitou Charentes
17. Rhone Alpes
19. Midi Pyrenees
20. Languedoc Roussillon
21. Provence Alpes Cote D'Azur