Rising gas prices threaten French tomato production

Multiplied by 10 in a year, the price per megawatt hour complicates greenhouse tomato production, affecting selling prices.

The war in Ukraine is also affecting our tomato growers. In France, around 95% of the tomatoes produced locally come from above-ground production, which means they are grown in large gas-heated greenhouses. An artificial process that makes it possible to produce at any time of the year throughout the year, but its ecological impact is controversial. With rising gas prices, greenhouse production is at risk, forcing many producers to relocate or even discard 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 only aggravated an already difficult situation for French tomato producers. Rather stable for ten years, gas prices began to skyrocket from the fourth quarter of 2021 and weighed on production for the first time. “The price has long been between 15 and 30 euros per megawatt hour. At the end of 2021 we averaged 80 euros, which was difficult. In February, with the conflict, it rose to 220 euros, or ten times the pricesays Christophe Rousse, President of Solarenn, a cooperative of Breton tomato producers. To sound the alarm, the latter compares this price surge to that of petrol: “It’s as if diesel suddenly costs 15 euros per liter“.

Signs need to limit their margins.

Christophe Rousse, President of Solarenn

Even if the gas price has stabilized at around 90 euros per megawatt hour, many producers are groping in the dark today and have to sell at a loss. “Without action from the big retailers we will be blocked, we would have to double the price of our products. Signs must trim their edges», demands the President of Solarenn. These increases have a direct impact on the consumer, who could double the price per kilo and therefore turn to imported and cheaper products.

Faced with this increase, several growers have decided to only plant half of their crops, while others have discarded some. In any case, the Breton producers have decided to postpone their production by two months. But with more than every second tomato being imported, French production is actually at risk. Especially as summer approaches and tomato peak season approaches, growers fear shelves will overflow and prices will collapse.

Strongly criticized for its carbon footprint, greenhouse production is generally defended by producer cooperatives who claim to have created virtuous closed-loop systems based on the production of electricity thanks to the heat of the engines of micro-power plants and the absorption of CO2 by the plants. “This system gives us temperature stability. If the tomato is not stressed by temperature, the phytosanitary risk is almost zero‘ adds Christophe Rousse. The use of hydrogen could also be a solution, but “not 10 years ago“, concludes the President of Solarenn.

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