At 8 am this Wednesday, Bruno Mille stops his tractor alongside a plot of Muscat in the Coustellet plain, 40 km east of Avignon (Vaucluse).
On his trailer, around thirty bales of straw that he will distribute around the rare vines that have survived the terrible night of April 7 to 8.
“Next night, if it drops to -3 ° C as announced, we will set the straw on fire to make smoke and warm the atmosphere.
A week ago, its 20 hectares of white cherries (for preserving) and red cherries (for the table) froze almost completely.
As for the vines, he estimates the loss on his 43 hectares intended for the vat at 80% and on his 7 hectares of table grapes at 50%.
"On the cherries, I had triggered the sprinkling
(Editor's note: a spray of water that forms a film of ice to protect the flower and the bud)
but the cold fell too quickly and too hard, and it didn't it does not work.
We got down to -6 ° C.
Bruno Mille's cherries did not withstand the -6 ° C last week.
The vines which had already “budded”
(Editor's note: the bud appeared)
did not resist.
“We still hope for those which are still in the winter stage, such as muscat, but it is still too early to be sure.
In the meantime, Bruno will spend another evening with his eyes riveted on his cell phone, which constantly displays the temperatures of his weather station.
“At -2 ° C, we light up.
Losses of 70 to 80%
A few kilometers away, at the foot of Bonnieux, Claude Ravoire also hopes to limit the damage in the vineyard.
“I have a strip that seems less affected on the slopes, but since it's cold and there is a mistral, for the moment we don't know.
For his 30 hectares of cherries, he estimates the losses at 70% or 80%.
“This is what we call black frosts, with a large mass of air that is too cold.
Hoar frosts remain at ground level.
At 1 am, we were already in negative.
These two farmers do not yet know how many seasonal workers they will be able to employ.
"It takes two weeks to find out if there will be cherries to pick up", sighs Claude Ravoire.
"I told the Poles who are due to arrive on May 15, as every year, that we would take stock at the end of April," says Véronique, the wife of Bruno Mille.
“If there are too few cherries, it's not worth it.
The 30 seasonal workers employed from May to September in the orchards and vineyards will certainly not be needed this year.
The Thousand have insured their vines thanks to crop insurance which covers frost and hail, part of which is paid for through the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union).
“It covers the costs incurred for the cultivation.
In 2017, there was a big frost and that allowed us to get through the year, ”says Bruno.
But nothing for the cherries, the premiums are too expensive.
“The premium is the price of the harvest.
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"No matter how hard we heat, it's irrecoverable": after the frost episode, these farmers lost everything
In addition to the cherries of which Vaucluse is the leading producer, all the fruit trees have been severely affected.
On the phone, Julie Cipriano has a trembling voice.
"The harvest is on the ground, we lost 80%," says the young woman, who manages 32 hectares of apple trees and 8 hectares of peach, apricot and nectarine trees on two farms with her brother Jean-Louis, near Orange.
“In twenty years, apple trees had never frozen.
This year they bloomed a week earlier and it froze later.
There we had -4 ° C on the flower, ”explains the arborist.
“Before the frost, it was magnificent.
I had my thinning teams to remove excess fruit, seasonal workers who had just started: their contract is over.
Bruno Mille brought straw bales that he will set on fire to "make smoke and warm the atmosphere if it drops to -3 ° C as announced" this night from Thursday to Friday.
On the two farms, 12 people are currently working, a figure which rises to 40 in full production.
"I will keep one person on each structure and the others will be on short-time work," laments Julie Cipriano.
“I made my statements and now we are waiting with a lump in our stomachs.
If we don't have the aid, the deferral of charges with our loans and fixed charges, I don't know where we're going.
We must not let us down.
Freeze: Jean Castex promises "exceptional envelopes", the Disaster Fund "uncapped"
This distress, Georgia Lambertin, president of the Vaucluse Chamber of Agriculture, is well aware of it.
“You had white cherry trees, the next day they were brown.
It's a whole heritage that has vanished.
The Chamber has opened a crisis cell where farmers can call and be guided.
Impossible to give figures at the moment.
“You have to wait two to three weeks to accurately measure the scale and get feedback from the field.
But in this department where more than a third of the surfaces (32%) are cultivated and where agriculture weighs for 1 billion euros, the damage is likely to amount to hundreds of millions of euros. "We will need substantial aid from June, when the farmers should have started selling what they had collected," insists Georgia Lambertin. “I get a lot of messages asking how we can be helped. If the French want to help us, I ask them to buy French fruit without comparing prices. "