Lavender farmers in the south of France could lose up to 40% of this year’s crop after caterpillars ravaged flowering fields across the region.
The caterpillars came from eggs laid by moths blown across the Mediterranean by a Sirocco desert wind in June, and turned some fields into brown twigs within a couple of days of hatching.
They ate the lavender at night, meaning several farmers were unaware of the damage before it was too late.
‘It was incredibly quick’
Alain Aubanel, president of the Comité Interprofessionnel des Huiles Essentielles Françaises, said: “It was incredibly quick and some farmers were not able to react and harvest.
“Some of the worst-affected areas are up in the mountains and in the worst cases farmers lost 80% of their crop.
“Other areas, on the plains, escaped entirely. It is too early for exact figures, but overall it looks as though 40% of the expected crop will not be harvested, which is an enormous loss.”
Cold winter will kill off remaining moths
Mr Aubanel said that in the hot, dry mountains of the south it was likely lavender fields will be in bloom again next year, but there might be fewer in the lowland plains, with cereals or sunflowers grown in their place.
He did not expect widespread pesticide spraying as a result of the infestation, as a cold winter would kill any remaining moths.
Next year, he expects more farmers will use organic farming traps, in which scents designed to attract male moths lure them to their deaths before they have the chance to breed.
The moths are thought to belong to the Noctuidae family.