French strawberry farmers leave fruit to rot as high temperatures hit harvests

Strawberry growers in France are leaving large quantities of fruit to rot in the fields, as unusually hot temperatures mean everything is ripening at once, overwhelming their capacity to harvest.

"Strong heat registered in the South-East and South-West of France have accelerated strawberry production, and has brought about a large quantity of fruit to sell,” wrote the AOPn Fraise strawberry growers association, even at the end of April.

Since then, southwestern France has seen 40 days straight of above-average daily temperatures – more than 10 to 15 degrees hotter than usual – which means strawberries are ripening twice as fast as usual.

They are ripening faster than they can be picked. Usually strawberries are harvested once a week. This year, to get all the ripe fruit, pickers would have to come through every two days.

Pickers are seasonal labourers, many from abroad, and there are not enough of them to keep up.

Plus, supermarkets refuse overripe strawberries. They require solid fruit that can hold up to transport and keep for a few days, which means they must be picked before they are completely ripe.

As a result, ripe fruit, which can get damaged in transport, are left to rot in the fields.

The glut of strawberries means lower prices, which benefit consumers, but but farmers are feeling the loss of a large part of their crops.

"Prices are 20 percent lower than the average of the last five years,” Xavier Mas, president of the national association of strawberry production organizations, told the AFP news agency.

To try to slow down the ripening process, farmers are irrigating crops more than usual, and trying to find more workers to harvest the ripe fruit.

But the effects of climate change and rising temperatures are making some farmers rethink their crops in the future.

(with AFP)