In Saint-Julien-de-Concelles, a small town on the banks of the Loire located about fifteen kilometers east of Nantes, huge white shelters, five to six meters high and aligned for several kilometers, screen the horizon. They overhang plants of lamb's lettuce, young shoots and spinach. Crisscrossing the small roads around, Thierry Godineau, opposition city councillor, sighs: "Behind the shelters, there is a bell tower, trees. We don't see them anymore."
The elected official believes that market gardeners have "always had their place" in Loire-Atlantique - the first French lamb's lettuce producing area and second on a European scale - but scraps against an "industrial" model that "disfigures" the valley and "reduces" its biodiversity. "They have specifications, a production schedule. The only way to respect them in terms of volume and appearance is to sterilize the soil and then inject exactly what their crops need to grow uniformly and calibrated," says Guillaume Planche, an organic market gardener in the south of Nantes.
" READ ALSO "Endangerment of employees and a territory": in Loire-Atlantique, the world leader in fertilizers irritates
"Industrial market gardeners are huge companies that generate millions in turnover (...) without increasing the food resilience of the territory", points out Julie Laernoes, ecologist deputy of Loire-Atlantique, who considers the model "out of step with the environmental emergency". According to the Federation of Nantes market gardeners, the annual turnover of the sector "is around 300 million euros per year", or between 12 and 25% of the agricultural turnover of the department, depending on the year.
President of the federation, Régis Chevallier produces on 70 hectares lettuce, spinach, radishes, young shoots and early leeks, partly under "GAP" (large plastic shelters), supplying via his cooperative industrialists, such as Bonduelle or Florette, and large or medium-sized surfaces. He advocates "humility" in the face of the climate issue and asks for "a little time" to adapt. "Ten years ago, we put a shot of glyphosate to destroy a spinach plant. Today, a mechanical tool is used. This year, we invested in a new type of seeder that allows you to make chews without sand. We did not wait for the controversies to think," he said, denouncing a recent "aggressive shift" by those criticizing his way of cultivating.
" READ ALSO "It's a new victory": in Nantes, the abandonment of the Heron Tree delights ecologists
A degraded experimental greenhouse
In mid-June, a thousand people demonstrated near Nantes at the call of a collective including Les Soulèvements de la terre and the association La Tête dans le sable to denounce the industrial exploitation of this resource in market gardening. Activists had then defaced an experimental greenhouse of the Federation of Market Gardeners, which has since filed a complaint against X. Three months later, Bertille Grasset, of the association La Tête dans le sable, recounts an action "with a symbolic aim" against "the hectares they can exploit".
"But their strike force, the support of the FNSEA (majority agricultural union), allowed them to flood the media with their version of the facts," she adds. The association of which Bertille is a member was created three years ago against the project to extend the Lafarge and GSM sand pits in Saint-Colomban, south of Nantes, whose deposits will soon be exhausted. The two companies want to exploit an additional 70 hectares. On these two sites bordered by dunes, between 25 and 30% of the 600,000 tons of sand extracted on average each year are destined for Nantes market gardening.
" READ ALSO "Bio work", "zadistes": a Loire-Atlantique farm tagged, the town hall files a complaint
A "difficult" dialogue
La Tête dans le sable fears in case of extension to see arrive around the sand pits new market gardeners, who "already buy the land of farms above the market price". If the number of vegetable farms has decreased in ten years, the dedicated area has increased by at least 10%, according to the agricultural census. "Some talk about land grabbing: in Loire-Atlantique, market gardening is about 1% of the useful agricultural area. Comparing ourselves with Almeria (in Spain, whose huge greenhouse crops are nicknamed "sea of plastic", editor's note), I find it quite irresponsible, "says Régis Chevallier.
In Saint-Julien-de-Concelles, Thierry Godineau is just waiting to discuss. In particular, he suggests grouping together all the large plastic shelters in his municipality, to avoid obstructing too much of the landscape. But for now, he says, "dialogue is difficult."