Invasive caterpillar threatens French lavender fields

The Local France
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Invasive caterpillar threatens French lavender fields
A lavender field in south-eastern France in July 2023 (Photo by Nicolas TUCAT / AFP)

France's famous Provence lavender fields have been ravaged by an invasive species of caterpillar, with some producers saying they have lost their entire crop.


The species of moth caterpillars (chenilles in French) are originally from North Africa and their larvae were transported to France via the Sirocco winds, the same weather pattern that brings sand from the Sahara to Europe.

The insects ravage lavender fields, turning them from their iconic blue-purple colour to gray, threatening both tourism and the production yield from the crop, used to make perfume and other products.

They have been particularly present in the French départements of Alpes-de-Huate Provence, Drôme and Vaucluse, and their presence this year comes at a particularly challenging time for local producers, as many were hit hard by drought in 2022.

While the caterpillars have affected lavender crops previously - with notable episodes in 2018 and 2019, this year, there have been particularly high volumes of the insect and pheromone traps, meant to capture females to reduce breeding, were less effective.

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As such, experts are DNA testing the insects to see if they are from a different variety.

"This is the first year they have come with such a high intensity. In 2018 and 2019, we saw the moths and we knew the caterpillars would be coming, so we managed to save a large part of the harvest", one lavender grower and head of the Drôme-Ardèche chapter for perfume-plant producers.


Aubanel told Franceinfo that certain parts of the Drôme département, like the Baronnies area, have been particularly hard-hit, with crop losses of up to 100 percent in some plots.

The French lavender sector employs over 3,000 farmers, with approximately 9,000 other jobs connected to it, according to figures from French daily Le Figaro.

One local farmer, Bernard Granet, told the regional news outlet France 3 that they would "have preferred hail, because at least with hail you lose the harvest not the plant".

"People come to the Albion and Valensole plateaus for lavender, now what are they going to come to see?" Granet said.

In response, some producers, like Rudy Usseglio, told BFMTV that they are calling for State aid, "as well as help from the banking sector".

The invasive caterpillar species could also lead to other crop losses - namely in tomatoes, sage, corn, alfalfa and chickpeas which are also grown in the area. Additionally, ripple effects will impact other lavender bi-products, such as lavender honey production.


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