Greenhouse crops are threatened by high gas prices, despite the fact that this method of cultivation consumes a lot of energy. The prices of tomatoes, strawberries and cucumbers could increase.
The war in Ukraine accelerated the rise in energy prices. A rise in costs that directly threatens the production of fruit and vegetables in greenhouses, particularly tomatoes, the star dish of the summer. In France, 95% of the tomatoes produced are grown above ground, in large gas-heated greenhouses. A growing method introduced in the early 1980s to recreate optimal growing conditions. Many producers find themselves with their backs to the wall.
“When we have energy prices that multiply by three, it compromises the very existence of companies,” warns Patrick Lévêque, president of the Regional Federation of Farmers’ Unions PACA (FRSEA).
“The price [du gaz] 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 price,” says Christophe Rousse, president of Solarenn, a cooperative of Breton tomato producers, interviewed by Le Figaro. This price has fallen, until it stabilized around 90 euros per megawatt hour.
To limit losses, some growers prefer to plant in smaller areas, even if it means throwing out plants that have already been paid for. One way to limit the impact on billing because having fewer crops “reduces the costs of irrigation, fertilizers and labor for harvesting,” says Patrick Levêque. Tomatoes and cucumbers are particularly affected, while strawberries are at the end of warming and are being harvested.
Greenhouse cultivation, criticized for its carbon footprint with 1.88 kilos of CO2 released per kilo of tomatoes, is very energy intensive. However, it tends to grow. “We removed products that made it possible to clean the soil because they were polluting. Therefore, it was necessary to adopt techniques that allow the cultivation of tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables outside the soil,” explains Patrick Levêque.
Producers are sounding the alarm. Especially since the increase in energy costs affects all areas of agriculture.
“In the south of France we have many irrigation associations that irrigate by pumping. For some, contracts with their energy provider are coming to an end. We have to renegotiate and there the prices will triple, going from 50,000 euros to 150,000 euros a year,” says the president of FRSEA PACA.
For him, the help provided by the resilience plan is not enough to offset the sky-high costs. “In the GNR, a green diesel for agricultural machinery, the price per liter has doubled, even tripled,” says Patrick Levêque.
Towards a price increase
Another problem is that production costs are rising and producers are sometimes forced to sell at a loss. While the annual trade negotiations between distributors and producers officially ended on March 1, all the players came back to the table due to the conflict in the East. “These discussions, in any case, will lead to price increases. We will not be able to cushion the crisis. Because it is not only energy prices that are increasing, there are also those of packaging, supplies…”, says Patrick . Levêque.
“Without the gesture of large distribution, they would block us, we would have to double the price of our products. Brands must cut their margins,” says Christophe Rousse, president of Solarenn.
Greenhouse production should be reduced this year, creating a demand for air for imported products, from Morocco or Spain. “I think that in the end, the Ukrainian crisis has put the church back in the center of the town. We just realized that food is also a weapon of war. If we want local food, all these problems will have to be solved. in the future”, concludes the president of the FRSEA PACA.