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Coronavirus: the horticulture sector on the brink

Tons of destroyed plants, unsold: horticulture, whether ornamental or vegetable, will struggle to recover from the coronavirus, while all the outlets are closed at the same time or the sector realizes three-quarters of its turnover.

“80% of sales are made at the moment and they had to destroy everything, it's catastrophic,” alarmed the president of the FNSEA Christiane Lambert, Monday in a video.

Another voice came up on Tuesday, that of Christelle Morance. In an open letter, the president of Pays-de-la-Loire, the main horticultural region of France, asked the Minister of Economy Bruno Le Maire for state aid “to encourage distributors to honor their commitments “.

“To date,” she explains, “the main players in mass distribution (with the exception of System U for the time being) cancel or downgrade their orders”.

“It is essential that the government obtain from distributors the commitment that they will fulfill their orders from horticultural producers, whose future depends very largely on them,” she insists.

In the other major horticultural region, Center-Val de Loire, the “catastrophe” is already there. And especially in Loiret, which has 1,000 jobs and half of regional production.

“The horticultural sector has a unique character, because we achieve between 70% and 80% of our turnover between March 15 and the end of May. However, we can no longer sell to distributors” due to containment measures, explains Jean-Marie Fortin, president of the Loiret Chamber of Agriculture.

“Packaging, labor, plants, heating: all the costs incurred in production are already paid and we are not going to sell anything. Losing 80% of its turnover by paying its expenses is exceptional”, he sighs.

“I faced the storm of 1999, the hail of 2014 and the floods of 2016, but there, it will swallow up all the company's equity. If there is no help, the horticultural businesses will disappear in six months, “says the producer in Saint-Denis-en-Val, near Orléans.

-Salads and lost tomatoes-

“I heard the President of the Republic, so I remain positive. But I fear the dramas in a month, if nothing has changed,” he explains about the aid promised by the state. “It is clear that the whole season will pass. It is a whole industry, its 3,600 producers and 22,000 jobs, which is at risk.”

“It's a disaster,” adds Guillaume Gatelier, who specializes in vegetable plants, particularly salads, tomatoes and strawberries.

“We are in the heart of the season with the salad. We have big series of 80,000 seedlings arriving every week, which were prepared in January and February. Everything is thrown away,” he laments. “On strawberries, we can catch up, but for salads and tomatoes, it's lost”.

And it is impossible to give up and wait for the coronavirus epidemic to pass: everything that is not sold now will not be sold later.

“If the confinement lasts six weeks, it is 50% of the turnover which leaves and which will not be caught up. We will then lose all our cash”, warns the producer based in Mézières-lès-Cléry (Loiret). “We hope the aid, if we do not have it, the company will not be able to start again. If the banks help us with credits, it will only go back to jump better.”

As for post-confinement, horticulturalists are already thinking about it. But then again, it will not be without difficulty. “If demand doubles in May, we will not be able to follow in volume,” regrets Guillaume Gatelier.

And again, to keep the demand as low as possible, “we should be able to anticipate the end of confinement at least four weeks in advance”.

“Today, we maintain the greenhouses, we replant, but that may be a mistake,” says Jean-Marie Fortin. “We may be paying to dump everything.”

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