French fruit, vineyards endure coldest April day in 75 years

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Saint Nicolas de Bourgueil (north western France): fight against spring frost in the vineyards of the Loire Valley.
Saint Nicolas de Bourgueil (north western France): fight against spring frost in the vineyards of the Loire Valley.
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French wine and fruit growers were hit by the coldest April day since 1947 overnight Sunday and early Monday, the second straight year they have suffered freak spring weather.

Growers burned candles, sprayed water and used wind turbines in efforts to protect their crops as temperatures fell below the freezing point, with a record minus 9.3 degrees Celsius in Mourmelon in the Marne department east of Paris.

Experts say freak weather events are increasingly common due to climate change.

Temperatures rose on Monday, according to Meteo France forecaster Patrick Galois, but he warned that freezing weather would still occur between the southwest and central France.

Growers fear the worst.

"It's very bad. It hit hard overnight. A lot of fruit growers are affected," Christiane Lambert, president of the FNSEA farmers' union, told AFP.

The agriculture ministry said it was "too early" to draw conclusions about the damage.

"The damage is only visible after a few days," it said.

Fruit trees are more vulnerable than vineyards this year, the ministry said.

In the Tarn-et-Garonne department in the southwest, Damien Garrigues sprayed his apple trees to cover buds in ice in a bid to protect them from even lower temperatures.

"For now it's not as bad as last year," he said, noting he lost 20 percent of production in 2021.

In Agen in the neighbouring Lot-et-Garonne department, "big losses" are expected for plum growers but not as bad as last year, when "100 percent" were ruined by the cold snap, said Remy Muller, an adviser at the department's chamber of agriculture.

A wind turbine was used in Eric Chadourne's vineyard in Bergerac, also in the southwest, in a bit to limit the damage.

But elsewhere, "all early buds, merlot, white grapes and malbec are frozen," Chadourne said.

A cold snap in April last year cut the harvest of apricots, cherries and pears by half compared to previous years, according to official statistics.

Wine production also fell to a historically low level, down 19 percent on an annual basis.

Prime Minister Jean Castex said money from an emergency fund may be released if necessary to help producers.

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