Although lavender is a hardy plant, fairly tolerant of the harsh climate of Haute-Provence, it has had a hard time coping with the harsh weather conditions to which it has been subjected for many months.
The drought of summer 2022, which continued into the following winter, with abnormally low levels of precipitation until March, weakened the plants, which lost their vigor and were slow to restart this summer.
Heavy and erratic rainfall in May then encouraged the proliferation of plants in the furrows, competing with (and further weakening) the lavender plants*.
“There’s a lot of grass this year. I usually extract 30 to 40kg of fine lavender essential oil from a 25m3 container. This year, I’ll have barely 3kg. It’s the first year I’ve seen this. Guillaume Liardet, Distillerie Aroma’plantes, Sault.
*Not to be confused with inter-row grassing, which is a controlled agro-ecological practice to combatdieback.
And now, scorching temperatures, combined with July’s Sirocco (itself the result of the Mediterranean heat dome), have encouraged Noctuid caterpillars to proliferate in plants. The latter love lavender and lavandin seeds and literally devour the ears, causing flowers to fall off and lavender growers to lose their harvest.
“There are caterpillars everywhere. I harvest as fast as I can. I start at 5am and finish at midnight-1am. Yields are very low and I’m going to lose at least 60% of my crop.” Paul-Henri Roux, lavender grower in Sault.
This situation is exceptional, as Eric Chaisse, former director of CRIEPPAM (a study and research center dedicated to perfume, aromatic and medicinal plants based in Manosque), now an independent consultant, points out:
“In forty years of working with lavender and lavandin in Haute Provence, I have never seen such a catastrophe for our emblem of Provence. […] I had a feeling that climate change would have a growing impact on this crop on the dry plateaux of our beautiful Provence. But I didn’t think it would happen so quickly.
It also highlights the fragility of the sector, which has been suffering from a series of setbacks over the last few years, including the impact of global warming, dieback and regulatory constraints, in an unfavorable market.
“In two years of climatic catastrophes, accentuated by unprecedented pest damage (midge, noctuid moths), lavender on the Plateau d’Albion is disappearing by leaps and bounds. In 2 years, at least 60% of the area has been or will be uprooted. An entire industry is in danger, with dozens of farms on the brink of collapse. […]. Once again, it’s the traditional areas that are hardest hit.
It calls for a general mobilization, well beyond the industry, to support producers, beekeepers and tourism professionals whose destiny is intimately linked to the emblem of Provence.
That’s why we encourage you more than ever to explore the Lavender Routes and visit the producers and processors. First and foremost, they’re in the best position to explain their situation to you, and they’re always keen to share their knowledge and know-how to help Provence lavender shine. It’s also an opportunity to support them by buying directly from them the fruits of their labor in the form of essential oils, soaps, perfumes or bouquets.
“Direct sales are an increasingly important resource for lavender growers who have chosen to welcome the public to their farms,” explains Alain Aubanel, producer-distiller at Chamaloc and President of the CIHEF, the interprofessional organization for the PPAM sector. “Discovering our work combined with our products creates a unique experience for visitors who return year after year to shop with us.”
Fortunately, some areas have been spared, and there are still many flowering fields to admire from Digne-les-Bains to the Diois, via Sault and the Baronnies.
To take things a step further, an endowment fund was set up around ten years ago by players in the industry (CRIEPPAM, CIHEF, L’Occitane, Bontoux, IGP Miels de Provence, Routes de la Lavande…) to safeguard Provence’s lavender heritage. It has initiated numerous studies and operations to help the industry adapt to climate change. You can also make a donation to this organization, which still has a long way to go to achieve its goals!
And last but not least, choose natural products and support Provence’s producers by buying as much French lavender as possible!