French salt farmers reluctant winners amid climate crisis
Mark Ashenden

Salt farmers in the north west of France are emerging as a group of unlikely beneficiaries as the country suffers from blistering heatwaves and drought.

Guerande's snow-white Fleur de Sel - dubbed flower of salt - which crystallizes on the water's surface, is one of the finer salts on world markets, retailing in the U.S. at over $100 a kilogram.

As temperatures climbed in recent months and almost nonexistent rainfall accelerated salt water evaporation in the region, production has soared. 

"We're heading towards record production," said producer Francois Durand, who has worked on the salt marshes for more than 20 years.

Sea salt production over the last 10 years had averaged around 1.3 tons per salt pan. This year the yield was nearly double at 2.5 tons.


Salt yields have nearly doubled this season. /Reuters/Yann Tessier

Salt yields have nearly doubled this season. /Reuters/Yann Tessier

Durand acknowledged he was one of the few short-term winners of the climate crisis, while parts of the country deal with wildfires and water shortages. 

"I think one can say that, yes. Unfortunately," he said. "When you see what's happening elsewhere - the fires, the lack of water everywhere. But it's clear that it's good for us."

In a region better known for its variable Atlantic weather, the relentless sunshine and light winds has meant little rest for those who work the salt flats.

The workers push wheelbarrows along the narrow mud walls that separate each pan, scraping the salt from the bottom of the flats using methods and tools that have barely changed in over four centuries. No machinery is allowed in the harvesting process.

"The salt workers are tired," said Mathilde Bergier, a salt producer who runs a local shop. 

"I think it's been more than 40 days without a break. There hasn't been enough rain on the flats to justify a break."

Bergier also worries that the intensive pace needed by this summer's heat is unsustainable, concerned that the fragile mud structures in which the seawater evaporates might not survive for too long.

"We're setting records here, and we're wondering whether the salt pans are capable of producing as much, or not," she added. 

"Are we going to have to be more careful about how we produce the salt? There's a lot of water management involved."

Source(s): Reuters

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