Rising gasoline prices threaten tomato production in France

Multiplied by 10 in a year, the price of a megawatt hour makes greenhouse tomato production difficult, with repercussions on sales prices.

The war in Ukraine is also affecting our tomato growers. In France, about 95% of locally produced tomatoes come from above-ground production, that is, they are grown in large gas-heated greenhouses. An artificial process that allows production throughout the year, whatever the season, but which is debated due to its ecological impact. With the increase in gas prices, greenhouse production is compromised, forcing many growers to change or even throw away part of their plantation. At the end of the chain, the shelves are less stocked with French products, in favor of imports from Spain or Morocco.

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The conflict in Eastern Europe was not a trigger, but rather accentuated an already difficult situation for French tomato growers. Fairly stable for ten years, gas prices began to skyrocket from the fourth quarter of 2021, stressing production for the first time. “The price has long been between 15 and 30 euros per megawatt hour. At the end of 2021, we were on average at 80 euros, which was already difficult. In February, with the conflict, it rose to 220 euros, or 10 times the pricesays Christophe Rousse, president of Solarenn, a cooperative of Breton tomato growers. To sound the alarm, the latter compares this rise in prices with that of gasoline: “it’s as if diesel had gone to 15 euros a liter suddenly».

Signs must reduce their margins.

Christophe Rousse, president of Solarenn

Even if the price of gas has dropped to stabilize around 90 euros per megawatt hour, many producers are today in the dark, forced to sell at a loss. “Without action from the big retailers, we would be locked out, we would have to double the price of our products. Signs need to trim their margins», urges the president of Solarenn. These increases have a direct impact on the consumer, who could see the price of a kilo double and, therefore, resort to imported and cheaper products.

Faced with this rebound, several producers have chosen to plant only half of their plants, others have discarded part of them. In any case, the Breton producers have decided to postpone their production for two months. But with more than one in two imported tomatoes, French production is in danger. Especially since with the summer and peak tomato season approaching, growers fear shelves will be flooded and prices will plummet.

Highly criticized for its carbon footprint, greenhouse production is generally defended by producer cooperatives, which claim to have created virtuous closed-loop systems based on the production of electricity thanks to the heat of micro-plant engines and the absorption of CO2 by plants. “This system allows us temperature stability. When the tomato is not stressed by temperature, the phytosanitary risk is almost nil“adds Christophe Rousse. The use of hydrogen could also be a solution, but “not before 10 years“, concludes the president of Solarenn.

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