Between July 13 and July 14, vandals broke into the Domaine de Fontorbe in Lavaur near Toulouse and uprooted more than 7,000 trees on around three hectares worth of land.
The farm estate’s manager believes it to be an act of vandalism from a nearby environmental group, but it denies the accusation.
“It's human stupidity. Some of my employees have seen 100% of their work over the last three months torn up,” said estate manager Lucas Crosnier.
Potential act of vandalism
Around 1% of the 325-hectare estate was destroyed by the vandals, who uprooted more than 7,000 apple trees, including grafts attached to orchards for future harvests.
The vandals mainly attacked “just-grafted apple orchards,” according to Mr Crosnier.
“We're doing the sums and we hope it won't destroy the rootstocks,” he added.
Renewing an orchard from the ground up – and not just grafting new growths on already existing trees – would require “a lot of investment,” the manager said.
Fingers point to local environmentalists
Although an investigation is currently underway, Mr Crosnier believes a local residents association – Vaurais Nature Environnement – is behind the attack.
He claimed the association is angry over the estate’s plans to “deconvert” organic plots – including the ones vandalised – back to conventional orchards.
On July 1, the association organised a rally to protest this change.
“This act of vandalism comes a fortnight after the march (...) following which we legitimately felt that constructive exchanges could continue,” said Mr Crosnier.
The association denies involvement, however, and said it “deplored the action of destroying the orchards, for which [it] is in no way responsible and which is in no way linked to the action of our association.”
Furthermore, the association claimed it only follows “legal and peaceful” routes and does not condone the violence of the attack.
Mr Crosnier has lodged a complaint, opening an investigation into the “collective damage” caused, believing it impossible for one individual to cause so much damage.
The prefecture, however, has not made a link between the act and the association, as the current evidence “does not allow [them] to determine,” who carried out the attack.
The attack places a further strain on the already sour relations between the estate and local residents.
In 2021, the estate burned heaps of straw to prevent its trees from frosting up – which caused around 20 residents to get sick from the fumes.
The estate apologised for the incident, asking locals “not to remain in a dynamic of agri-bashing or misguided vision of [agriculture].”
The following March, Mr Crosnier was reprimanded after using pesticides on the farm whilst the Tarn department was facing a level-three orange warning for strong winds.
Using non-organic pesticides when this weather warning is in place is illegal above a certain amount, as it could be blown onto neighbouring properties.
After the incident, Mr Crosnier said the estate felt “under the microscope,” but that gendarmes had been called a number of times before the event and previously found the level of pollutants at an acceptable level.
Politicians, including the local mayor of the commune where the farm is located, declared their support for the farm estate after the incident last week.
Parliamentary leader of the far-right Rassemblement National party Marine Le Pen also voiced her support for the farm.
She condemned the “acts of destruction and havoc" in a tweet, before adding those guilty "must now be severely punished by the courts, with the perpetrators systematically sought out, prosecuted and sentenced.”