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Wine producers brace for massive losses as freezing tempearures decimate crops

rfi.fr– Across France, growers are counting their losses after an unseasonal cold spell, which affected hundreds of thousands of hectares of crops and vines in 10 of the country’s 13 wine producing regions.

Speaking earlier this week, Minister Julien Denormandie said “This frost wave, we’ve never experienced anything like it,” adding “This is probably the greatest agricultural catastrophe of the beginning of the 21st century.”

Cote-Rotie vineyards are looking at losses of around 80 percent of their harvest after a cold snap swept across Europe following a period of unseasonably warm weather.

Spring frost can be particularly devastating for vines, because once their sap has risen and buds have appeared they become highly vulnerable to sub-zero temperatures.

While the destruction wrought on vineyards is getting the most attention, France’s wider agriculture sector — the European Union’s biggest — is also reeling from the cold weather.

Fruit & vegetable production hit

Producers of fruit, vegetables and cereals have also been affected by the frost, with around 10 percent of France’s sugar beet production already been lost.

Denormandie warned that consumers will also have “far fewer” apricots, cherries and other fruit this year, driving prices higher.

The minister, who has set up a crisis group to coordinate the government’s response, has warned of “significant” financial damage.

Meanwhiile, Prime Minister Jean Castex has promised “exceptional payouts” to help growers get through the crisis, but the worst may not be over.

More bad weather on the way

The weather forecast suggests more damage ahead as abundant rainfall favours frost formation, even in milder temperatures, according to Luc Servant, vice president of France’s chambers of agriculture.

Servant says that it is still too early to gauge the toll on this year’s wine production, a part of which could still be saved in cases where buds had not yet appeared.

“But wherever fruit has frozen on trees, there won’t be more blossoms. It’s over,” he said.

The damage comes despite wine-makers taking various measures to mitigate the effect of extreme weather.

As vines blossom earlier due to global warming, growers have taken to pruning them later and later in the year to stop the buds appearing too quickly.

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